On August 20, 2009, a runaway Lexus crashed and burned. The four occupants of the vehicle were killed. Before the crash, a passenger made a frantic 911 call from the vehicle. The passenger told the 911 operator that the driver could not control the vehicle, the accelerator was stuck, and that the breaks were not working.
A wrongful death lawsuit was filed against Toyota, the manufacturer of the Lexus, and against the Lexus dealership, which installed an over-sized floor mat in the vehicle.
In September 2010, Toyota paid 10 million dollars to settle the wrongful death claims against it. The action for damages against the dealership continues.
The runaway Lexus was “loaner” from the local Lexus dealer. The dealer had installed a floor mat designed for a larger vehicle. Sheriff’s investigators concluded that the gas petal became stuck under the over-sized floor mat.
Another customer drove the “loaner” Lexus a few day earlier. He reported that the Lexus raced out of control and the gas pedal became stuck on the floor mat. He was able to regain control after he put the gear shift into neutral. He said he reported the problem to the Lexus dealer.
The attorney for the plaintiffs in the wrongful death lawsuit says that the plaintiffs regard the dealer as the party responsible for the deadly crash. The attorney said the plaintiffs will ask that the wrongful death damages assessed against the Lexus dealer be in an amount in excess of the 10 million dollars paid by Toyota.
New Mexico’s wrongful death law is similar to California’s. If the deadly crash had happened in New Mexico and the wrongful death claims were filed in a New Mexico court, the outcome would be the same as in the California case. After the jury determines the total amount of the wrongful death damages, the jury would be asked to asses the percentage of the total damage that was due to the negligence of the Lexus dealer. The dealer would be liable for the share of the damages caused by it’s negligence.