In the early 2000s, Toyota changed its engine design to feature an "electronic" throttle by adding tens of thousands of lines of new software to its engine control unit.  In the years that followed, many owners and drivers reported incidents of unintended acceleration.  Formal complaints of such incidents in Toyota's vehicles were higher than for prior model years.  Between 2005 and 2009, the National Highway Transportation Safety Board (NHTSA) performed five investigations, a pair of which resulted in vehicle recalls relating to floor mats.

Automotive Liability

Unfortunately, drivers of Toyota- and Lexus-branded vehicles continued to report similar incidents.  By 2010, NHTSA estimated that some 89 people had been killed and 57 injured in alleged runaway Toyota accidents of the prior decade.  It was in this context that a deadly Lexus ES350 crash killed an off-duty police officer and his family (in a fiery high-speed wreck that ended their 911 call for help), which prompted investigations by the U.S. Congress and a team of NASA engineers on loan to NHTSA.

Automotive Software Experts

In support of numerous automotive product liability lawsuits and a class action against Toyota, a team of five Barr Group software experts performed an extensive source code review of the engine control unit software for seven Toyota and Lexus models spanning the 2002 to 2010 model years.

In analyzing these millions of lines of automotive software source code, the Barr Group team built upon the prior NASA review. They looked more closely at more of the source code for more vehicles and also did other things that the NASA engineers didn’t have time to do.  These extra analyses included reviewing the internals of the operating system, analyzing the software for a secondary processor and the electronic data recorder (EDR), testing key aspects of the main CPU software in a processor simulator, and demonstrating–in 2005 and 2008 Camry dynamometer testing–a link between loss of throttle control and identified software defects.

In a nutshell, the team led by Barr Group concluded they'd found what NASA's engineers sought: “a systematic software malfunction in the Main CPU that opens the throttle without operator action and continues to properly control fuel injection and ignition” that is not reliably detected by any fail-safe.

Litigation Outcomes

Barr Group's expert's reports were submitted in an economic loss class action in U.S. District Court, which Toyota agreed to settle for $1.5 billion.  Barr Group co-founder and software expert witness Michael Barr also testified about Toyota's engine software at the only accident injury case that went all the way to trial.  The jury in that 2013 Oklahoma City trial concluded that the accident and death were caused by flaws in Toyota's source code.  Mr. Barr and other experts from the Barr Group team submitted expert reports and were deposed in several other cases of this multi-district litigation (MDL).

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