By Jonathan Stempel
NEW YORK (Reuters) - Toyota Motor Corp is not responsible for causing a New York doctor's 2005 Scion to accelerate unexpectedly and smash into a tree, a federal jury ruled on Friday.
The court verdict in Long Island, New York is the first by a U.S. jury concerning sudden acceleration by Toyota vehicles since the world's largest automaker began in 2009 recalling millions of vehicles over related defects.
Jurors in Central Islip, New York deliberated for less than two hours in the case brought by Amir Sitafalwalla, an emergency room trauma doctor who works in Brooklyn.
The plaintiff had argued that the accident was caused by design defects in his Scion TC's floor mats or its electronic throttle control system. He also said Toyota failed to install a brake override system that could have prevented the crash.
Toyota countered that Sitafalwalla caused the crash by stepping on the accelerator pedal rather than the brake. U.S. Magistrate Judge E. Thomas Boyle refused to admit evidence on the electronic system at the trial, which began Monday.
"I thought that we put on a pretty good case, and had a fair shot at persuading the jury," Albert Zafonte, one of Sitafalwalla's lawyers, said in an interview. "I'm just disappointed they found against us."
He said no decision has been made on whether to appeal.
Toyota faces hundreds of lawsuits over allegations that some of the Japanese automaker's vehicles sped up without warning.
Owners are seeking to recover for vehicle damage, injuries and increased depreciation.
"Toyota is pleased that the jury found no merit to this unintended acceleration claim," the company said. It called the verdict an "important benchmark" for similar cases because of the plaintiff's inability to identify an electronic defect that could cause unintended acceleration.
The case is Sitafalwalla v. Toyota Motor Sales USA Inc, U.S. District Court, Eastern District of New York, No. 08-03001.
(Reporting by Jonathan Stempel in New York; Editing by Gerald E. McCormick and Tim Dobbyn)