Toyota judge says complaint about juror unsubstantiated

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LOS ANGELES (Bloomberg) -- A Los Angeles judge said a juror's complaint that a fellow panelist in Toyota Motor Corp.'s trial over a fatality linked to unintended acceleration wasn't participating in deliberations was unsubstantiated.

"We asked each juror about participation and no one else raised this concern," California Superior Court Judge Lee Smalley Edmon told lawyers for the plaintiffs and Toyota. "No one raised any concerns, so the court finds this specific allegation unsubstantiated, and this court makes no finding."

The judge questioned the jurors behind closed doors Wednesday after one of them had asked a bailiff whether there was a way to "get rid of a juror who is not participating in discussions and comes to work high every morning."

Edmon, before she interviewed the jurors, had told the lawyers that a court security official who had shared an elevator with that same juror at lunch had said he smelled of marijuana.

The judge said earlier that she would ask the jurors individually and privately whether one of them isn't taking part in the deliberations.

The juror in question wouldn't be directly asked about using marijuana, the judge said.

Garo Mardirossian, a lawyer for the plaintiffs, said he feared that raising that issue could potentially introduce legal issues for the juror.

Mardirossian also said that if the juror was taking marijuana for medical reasons, such questions could potentially be discriminatory.

'More to it'

Mardirossian, after the judge had decided not to take any further action, said he disagreed with some of her findings and thought there was "more to it."

The jury is deciding whether the carmaker is liable for the death of a woman whose 2006 Camry sped out of control and hit a tree.

It's the first wrongful death case to go to trial following a series of Toyota recalls in 2009 and 2010 for issues related to sudden, unintended acceleration.

The jury, which has been deliberating for about three days, earlier Wednesday sent a note to the judge saying it was stuck on the first question of the verdict form.

That question asks whether the Camry's design was a substantial factor in the harm to the plaintiffs, the husband and son of the deceased woman. The 2006 Camry wasn't included in the Toyota recalls for unintended acceleration issues.

The jury foreman, when asked by Edmon, said the panel would benefit fom additional guidance from the court and from rehearing portions of witness testimony.

The jurors hadn't decided yet whose testimony they want to hear again, the foreman told the judge.

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