Business digest: Toyota absolved in death of driver

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Posted: Saturday, October 12, 2013 12:00 am

A Los Angeles County jury has awarded $10 million to the family of a California woman whose 2006 Toyota Camry accelerated out of control and crashed, killing her.

But in an unexpected twist, the verdict came entirely against Olga Belo, the driver whose vehicle crashed into the Toyota, setting off the accident. Toyota was absolved of any responsibility by the jury.

“To get a $10 million verdict for a 66-year old woman is a great verdict,” said Garo Mardirossian, attorney for the family of Noriko Uno, who died at the wheel in August 2009. “It was a win, win, win.”

The surprise verdict puts an end to the first major trial against the Japanese automaker over allegations that its vehicles suffered from dangerous unintended acceleration. It marks a victory for the automaker, which has spent years and billions of dollars defending itself and still faces scores of lawsuits over the issue.

“We are gratified that the jury concluded the design of the 2006 Camry did not contribute to this unfortunate accident,” Toyota said in a statement.

Toyota faces its first federal case next month in Santa Ana, Calif., in a suit involving an elderly Georgia woman, Ida Starr St. John, whose Camry accelerated and crashed into a school. She died before trial, but her heirs are continuing the case.

Belo was driving a vehicle that smashed into Uno's Camry. The impact caused Uno's foot to become trapped on the accelerator pedal, leading the car to take off at high speed, ultimately crashing into a tree and a utility pole. The jury blamed the crash for Uno's death.

The sudden-acceleration issue first arose for Toyota after the August 2009 death of an off-duty California Highway Patrol officer and his family in a runaway Lexus ES outside San Diego.

The accident, which occurred the same day as Uno's fatal crash, drew national attention and led to a number of huge and costly recalls, congressional hearings and more than $65 million in fines for federal safety code violations.

Numerous outside experts have claimed that the sudden-acceleration events could be caused by an electronic defect in Toyota vehicles, although no evidence has been presented that conclusively proves that theory and Toyota has vigorously denied the allegations.

TORONTO (AP) — BlackBerry founders Mike Lazaridis and Douglas Fregin are weighing taking over the distressed smartphone company as it searches for a savior.

Lazaridis said Thursday in a filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission that he and Fregin are looking to potentially acquire the 92 percent of the shares they don't currently own, either by themselves or with other interested parties. They have hired Goldman Sachs and Centerview Partners to help them explore options.

Their announcement is the latest sign of investor interest in BlackBerry after the company launched a review to consider a possible sale or breakup of its operations. The Canadian company announced last month that Fairfax Financial Holdings Ltd., which owns close to 10 percent of the company, signed a letter of intent that “contemplates” buying BlackBerry for $9 a share, or $4.7 billion. Fairfax, BlackBerry's largest shareholder, is trying to attract other investors.

Private equity firm Cerberus is also interested in looking at Blackberry's books as a step toward a possible bid.

DETROIT (AP) — Ford's board of directors ended a two-day quarterly meeting this week without issuing a public statement on the future of CEO Alan Mulally.

Microsoft Corp. is reportedly considering Mulally as a replacement for CEO Steve Ballmer, who is due to step down next year.

Spokesman Jay Cooney didn't comment on the board's discussions but said there is no change in Mulally's plan to remain at Ford through at least 2014.

Third-quarter profit for Wells Fargo & Co., the biggest U.S. mortgage lender, jumped 13 percent as a decline in revenue from mortgage lending was offset by reduced expenses and fewer soured loans. Net income increased to $5.6 billion in the July-September period from $4.9 billion a year earlier.Third-quarter revenue dipped to $20.5 billion from $21.2 billion.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has made no final decision about its proposal for renewable fuel mandates for 2014, the agency's administrator said Friday, responding to reports about a draft the EPA had circulated.

“The Obama administration remains firmly committed to furthering the development of all biofuels,” Gina McCarthy, the EPA administrator, said.

A proposal from the agency dated Aug. 26 would cut the mandate to 15.21 billion gallons for renewable fuels in 2014 instead of the 18.15 billion gallons established by a 2007 law.

JPMorgan Chase, the biggest U.S. bank by assets, reported a rare quarterly loss after setting up a big reserve for legal expenses.

The bank had to absorb a reserve for litigation expenses of $9.2 billion in the July-to-September period, pushing the lender to a loss of $380 million, compared with a profit of $5.7 billion a year earlier. Last month, JPMorgan agreed to pay $920 million and admitted that it failed to oversee trading that led to a huge $6 billion loss last year.

The bank is also said to be discussing an $11 billion national settlement with the Department of Justice over mortgage-backed securities that lost value after a bubble in the housing market burst and helped spur the financial crisis. The bank said it had a total of $23 billion in reserves to cover potential litigation costs.

© 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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