SAN FRANCISCO — The International Association of Defense Counsel (IADC) recently filed an amicus brief in favor of Toyota against claims of product liability for the alleged failure of an optional feature in the Toyota Tundra.

The case, William Jae Kim v. Toyota Motor Corporation, is currently on appeal in the California Supreme Court and seeks to determine “whether evidence of industry custom is relevant to the risk-benefit test for design defect,” per a court update provided by Mondaq.  

An amicus brief is a legal document filed by an invested third party to provide evidence in support of one party in a trial. 

The case stems from an auto accident in which plaintiff William Jae Kim was driving a Toyota Tundra. An optional feature on the 2005 Tundra model was electronic stability control (ESC), which was an emerging technology created to assist drivers when they lose control of their vehicles.

Kim had taken his truck out on a mountain road. He lost control of the vehicle and was reportedly seriously injured. The plaintiff’s motion against the car manufacturer claimed product liability was to blame for the accident and subsequent injuries.

The jury ruled in favor of Toyota in the first case. Kim quickly appealed.

The plaintiff claimed that vital evidence for the defense should not have been admitted to trial. The courts disagreed, finding that the “custom industry evidence” was admissible because Kim had first introduced it during trial. 

The relevance of the custom evidence to the risk benefits test was determined by the Second District Court of Appeals. The evidence showed the “feasibility of a safer alternative design” and that an alternate design’s implementation would yield consequences. It was also determined that the ESC evidence should be allowed into court to directly refute Kim’s claims that Toyota planned to make ESC capabilities standard on all their vehicles until their competition decided they would not make a similar move.

Toyota’s claim that “industry custom plays an important role in the design defect analysis” was echoed by the information submitted in IADC’s amicus brief. The association said “design defect determination should not be conducted in a vacuum,” adding that several factors should be considered, including the probability of danger, the seriousness of the danger, if a safer design was possible and the cost of such a design.

IADC also informed the court that Toyota made ESC an optional feature on the Tundra because it felt consumers would not opt for a feature whose benefits they would most likely be unaware of. This was done to reduce manufacturing costs.

“Without that distinction, if a product caused harm, a manufacturer who engaged in a careful and deliberate process may be just as liable as one who produced a product without thinking about the issues at all," IADC said in the brief. "A manufacturer's choices are synonymous with the condition of the product, because its choices produce the product.

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