In September 2007 Jean Bookout was driving her Toyota Camry as her best friend Barbara Schwartz rode in the passenger seat. As the car exited a highway in Oklahoma, it accelerated unexpectedly, causing an accident in which Jean Bookout was injured and Barbara Schwartz was killed.
Stories about the unintended acceleration problems with Toyota vehicles became commonplace in the news over the last few years. And the problem has caused several accidents and deaths. Bookout v. Toyota was the first personal injury case ending in a jury verdict to deal with the issue, and it lead Toyota to settle many similar pending cases in multi-district litigation across the country. Arguing the case also got Jere Beasley of Beasley Allen in Montgomery, Alabama, and his team of attorneys nominated as a finalist for Public Justice’s 2014 Trial Lawyer of the Year award. Beasley’s team, including Cole Portis, Ben Baker, and Graham Esdale uncovered Toyota’s attempt to obfuscate the number of unintended acceleration events across the country in its reporting to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). The Beasley team also countered Toyota’s initial claims that all of the accidents resulted from driver error, and ultimately forced Toyota to admit that the problem resulted from faulty software in Toyota’s computerized throttle system.
This video was one of five that I produced for Public Justice this past summer as a team member at Rich Tolsma Productions. Thanks to John Nolan at Rich Tolsma Productions for the nice title and lower third graphics and to Helen Taylor at Beasley Allen for helping to locate graphics from the case files.