SAN FRANCISCO (Legal Newsline) – Auto manufacturer Toyota won an appeal regarding a safety feature in one of its pickup truck models.
Justice Leondra Kruger, on the panel of the Supreme Court of California, issued a 31-page ruling on Aug. 27 in the appeal from the Los Angeles County Superior Court decision in the lawsuit against the company filed by William and Hee Kim.
The Kims sued Toyota for injuries caused by an auto accident that they alleged that would have been prevented if the pickup was equipped with vehicle stability control (VSC), a safety tool that makes a vehicle stable under difficult conditions.
As stated in the ruling, in April 2010, William Kim was "driving his 2005 Toyota Tundra pickup truck through the mountains on the Angeles Forest Highway," going down a curve while it was raining, when "a vehicle coming from the opposite direction crossed into his lane."
After trying to steer the truck, the ruling states Kim lost control of the vehicle, running "off the road and down the side of a cliff before it came to rest." He suffered "serious neck and spinal cord injuries that rendered him a quadriplegic," the ruling said.
The Kims sued Toyota over allegations of strict product liability, claiming that the vehicle stability control feature "would have prevented Kim’s accident," and that it "should instead have been made part of the Tundra’s standard equipment and that the omission was a defect in the Tundra’s design," the ruling stated.
Toyota started offering the feature in 2005 as an option. The ruling states at the time, VSC was a "relatively new technology."
After considering if the car's design contributed to danger, through the risk-benefit theory of strict liability, the ruling states the trial court found that the Tundra "did not have a design defect," deciding in Toyota's favor. Kim filed a motion for a new trial, but it was denied by the court.
In her ruling, Kruger considered the pickup's design safe, even when the vehicle control feature is not available.
"The challenged industry practice evidence was admissible to shed light on the safety of the Tundra’s design, absent standard VSC," Kruger said.
State Judge William Dato, an associate judge of the Court of Appeal for the Fourth District, issued a concurring opinion in the case.
In that opinion, Dato disagrees with the majority in regards to the risk-benefit liability theory used by the trial court when examining the case.
"A product can still be defective in design even if the manufacturer acted no differently than any other reasonable manufacturer, and you cannot consider the conduct of other manufacturers for the purpose of showing there was no design defect," Dato said.
California Supreme Court case number S232754