Toyota hit with product liability claim following death of elderly Pa. driver

By Jon Campisi | Dec 22, 2011

The family of an elderly woman who died as a result of injuries she allegedly sustained after crashing her car into a concrete barrier early last year has filed a product liability complaint against Toyota Motor Corp.

Philadelphia attorney Brian J. McCormick, Jr., of Sheller, P.C., and West Virginia attorney Eric B. Snyder jointly filed the civil action at federal court in Philadelphia Dec. 19 on behalf of Michael Piotrowicz and Christine L. Persons.

Piotrowicz is the administrator of the estate of Mildred O. Sykucki, the 87-year-old Chambersburg, Pa. woman who died on Jan. 29, 2010, a week after she crashed her 2002 Toyota Camry near Cleveland Avenue in Chambersburg.

Persons controls the estate of William A. Sykucki, Mildred’s husband.

The lawsuit claims that Sykucki, a “safe driver with a good driving record,” sustained various physical injuries after her crash that she never recovered from.

The injuries included broken ribs, a dislocated pelvis, a fractured knee and multiple internal injuries.

The complaint alleges that Mildred Sykucki fell victim to a so-called “unintended acceleration,” a mechanical problem that Toyota “continuously denied” occurred with the throttle control systems in its vehicles, but one that the car manufacturer received close to 38,000 reports about between 2002 and 2010, and which led to a congressional probe, according to the complaint.

“The UA phenomenon is both real and terrifying,” the lawsuit states.

Toyota’s own data projects that unintended accelerations accounted for at least 760 crashes since the problem first became identified, the lawsuit claims. Furthermore, independent safety researchers estimate that UA-related crashes have led to 341 injuries and 19 deaths.

The lawsuit claims that the affected vehicles are defective because they lack a mechanism, such as a brake override system, which would prevent, mitigate or stop a UA event.

“These defects alone, or in combination, render certain Toyota vehicles unreasonably dangerous and unable to perform as safely as an ordinary customer would expect,” the suit states.

According to the complaint, Mildred Sykucki was wearing her seatbelt while driving her 2002 Camry back on Jan. 22, 2010 at about 8 in the morning, when, as she was driving, the vehicle suddenly accelerated at a high rate of speed.

The vehicle accelerated through two stop signs, into a yard and crashed into a concrete barrier, the suit states.

Sykucki was taken by ambulance to Chambersburg Hospital and was later transported to Milton S. Hershey Medical Center where she spent the next seven days being treated for her various injuries, the lawsuit states. She died exactly one week later.

The lawsuit contains claims of negligence, strict products liability-design defect, strict products liability-failure to warn, breach of implied warranty of merchantability, breach of implied warranty of fitness for a particular purpose and fraudulent concealment.

The lawsuit also accuses the defendants of violating Pennsylvania’s unfair trade practices and consumer protection laws.

The suit also contains a loss of consortium count in which William Sykucki alleges the fatal accident caused him to be deprived of his deceased wife’s love and companionship.

The plaintiffs seek unspecified general damages in an amount to be determined at trial, compensation for medical and psychological care, pre-and-post-judgment, consequential damages, litigation costs and unspecified punitive damages.

Punitive damages are being sought in the claim because the plaintiffs allege Toyota had knowledge of the defect in its vehicles, but put them on the market nonetheless, the suit claims.

A jury trial has been demanded.

The various defendants named in the suit are Toyota Motor North America Inc., Toyota Motor Engineering & Manufacturing North America Inc., Toyota Motor Sales U.S.A. Inc. and Toyota Motor Corporation.

The federal case number is 2:11-cv-07715-HB.

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