Houston man seeks $100 million from Toyota over parents' deaths

John Suayan, Galveston Bureau Feb. 25, 2010, 1:39am

GALVESTON - A Houston man has filed a $100 million wrongful death lawsuit against Toyota on behalf of his parents, alleging the Japanese car company tried to cover up "a major and dangerous defect" with its vehicles' floor mats.

Kenneth E. Hall's suit says Janice and Kenneth Berg were killed on Feb. 24, 2009, after their 2009 Camry four-door sedan crashed into a utility pole in Houston's Clear Lake area. Hall claims the car's gas pedal malfunctioned and caused the vehicle to travel at a high rate of speed.

The case was filed Feb. 15 in Galveston County District Court.
Janice Berg purchased the vehicle from the Star Toyota dealership in League City in December 2008.

On the day of the accident, she was driving southbound along El Camino Real with Kenneth Berg in the passenger seat when the Camry abruptly encountered trouble, according to court papers.

"Suddenly and without warning, the Camry malfunctioned and accelerated at a high rate of speed," the original petition says, echoing witnesses' accounts.

"Mrs. Berg lost control of the vehicle at an intersection and the Camry crashed into a utility poll."

The suit proceeds to explain that the couple was rushed to Ben Taub Hospital in Houston.

"Despite the hospital's efforts to save their lives, Mrs. Berg and her husband were both fatally injured in the one-car collision and succumbed to their injuries later in the evening at the hospital," it says.

According to the complaint, the plaintiff received a letter from Toyota warning of the possibility of gas pedals getting stuck on the all-weather floor mats some months after his parents' deaths.

Hall alleges the defendant tried to deflect responsibility for the problem on two different occasions, but was recently criticized by the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration for making misleading claims related to the floor mat recall, the suit says.

Toyota recalled more than 4.20 million vehicles in order to fix or replace the accelerator pedal in the largest recall in the company's history in November 2009.

"Subsequently, it has been allegedly discovered that Toyota was aware of problems with gas pedal sensors causing sudden vehicle acceleration, in many of its vehicles as early as March 2007," the suit says.

The estate of Janice and Kenneth Berg is represented by Collins and O'Neal PLLC.

Galveston County 122nd District Court Judge John Ellisor is presiding over the case.

Case No. 10cv0462

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