Toyota sued for fatal crash linked to throttle

A California lawsuit alleges that a fatal crash in which a Camry accelerated out of control was caused by faulty electronics. The issue is separate from mechanical accelerator pedal problems cited in Toyota's recall.

Brooke Crothers Former CNET contributor
Brooke Crothers writes about mobile computer systems, including laptops, tablets, smartphones: how they define the computing experience and the hardware that makes them tick. He has served as an editor at large at CNET News and a contributing reporter to The New York Times' Bits and Technology sections. His interest in things small began when living in Tokyo in a very small apartment for a very long time.
Brooke Crothers
2 min read

A lawsuit filed in California on Thursday alleges that a fatal crash in which a Toyota Camry accelerated out of control was caused by faulty electronics.

The lawsuit is centered on Toyota's "drive by wire" system, which is the technology underlying the electronic throttle control, the alleged cause of the uncontrolled acceleration cited in the lawsuit. That is a separate issue from the mechanical accelerator pedal problems that Toyota is addressing with its massive recall.

The suit claims that the crash killed Upland, Calif., resident Noriko Uno, 66, when her Camry suddenly accelerated to 100 miles per hour. After weaving to avoid hitting other drivers, the car hit a curb, sending it into the air, and then, finally, into a tree, according to a Reuters report.

Drive by wire replaces traditional mechanical and hydraulic control systems with electronic control systems. While drive by wire allows for a more refined, computer-controlled acceleration, it has also introduced a new set of hard-to-trace problems.

Toyota would not comment on the suit. More generally, the company is saying, at least publicly, that it has found no evidence of electronic problems. John Hanson, national manager of environmental safety and quality in Toyota's communications group, when contacted Friday, stood by a statement he made earlier this week to CNET. "We have not found any evidence of an electronic problem that would have led to unwanted acceleration. That doesn't mean that we've written it off. We are aggressively investigating any claims," he said.

The case is similar to a longstanding allegation made by Jordan Ziprin of Phoenix. In a well-documented case detailed in a petition to the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA), Ziprin claims that, in 2005, when backing out of a driveway near his home, his 2002 Toyota Camry XLE suddenly accelerated and slammed into a utility box. He has also claimed this was due to a faulty electronic throttle system.

Toyota has recalled approximately 8 million vehicles worldwide, including more than 2 million in the U.S., because of mechanical glitches with its accelerator pedals. Uno's family members said that they hope their lawsuit will force Toyota to widen its recall to include all models equipped with an electronic throttle and "to retrofit those automobiles with a brake override system," according to Reuters.

Garo Mardirossian, a lawyer for the Uno family, said Toyota's recall should cover model years 2002 through 2006, according to the Reuters report. He added that Toyota and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration had knowledge of 389 complaints of out-of-control acceleration in those model years.