Kokomo Tribune; Kokomo, Indiana

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March 19, 2014

US files charge against Toyota, $1.2B penalty

(Continued)

At the time, legal experts said the Oklahoma verdict might cause Toyota to consider a broad settlement of the remaining cases. Until then, Toyota had been riding momentum from several trials where juries found it was not liable.

Toyota has blamed drivers, stuck accelerators or floor mats that trapped the gas pedal for the acceleration claims that led to the big recalls of Camrys and other vehicles. The company has repeatedly denied its vehicles are flawed.

No recalls have been issued related to problems with onboard electronics. In the Oklahoma case, Toyota attorneys theorized that the driver mistakenly pumped the gas pedal instead of the brake when her Camry ran through an intersection and slammed into an embankment.

But after the verdict, jurors told AP they believed the testimony of an expert who said he found flaws in the car's electronics.

Toyota also had to pay millions for recalls, as well as a series of fines totaling $68 million to the NHTSA, the U.S. government's road safety watchdog, for being slow to report acceleration problems.

Still, the payments won't hurt Toyota's finances very much. In its last fiscal quarter alone, Toyota posted a $5.2 billion profit, crediting a weak yen and strong global sales.

Toyota's U.S. market share, however, has fallen more than 4 percentage points since unintended acceleration came to the forefront in August of 2009, when a California Highway Patrol officer and three others were killed in a fiery crash. The officer's runaway car was traveling more than 120 mph when it crashed and burst into flames. One of his family members called police about a minute before the crash to report the vehicle had no brakes and the accelerator was stuck.

At the time, Toyota controlled 17.8 percent of the U.S. market. Gas prices were high, playing to Toyota's fuel-efficient small cars and hybrids. Detroit automakers were in serious financial trouble and had few fuel-efficient cars for sale.

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