Dr. Amir Sitafalwalla leaves court in Central Islip after a...

Dr. Amir Sitafalwalla leaves court in Central Islip after a jury ruled human error likely caused his 2005 Toyota to go out of control. (April 1, 2011) Credit: Joseph D. Sullivan

A federal jury on Friday ruled that there were no defects in a Toyota that a Port Washington doctor claims accelerated out of control in his driveway in 2005, slamming into a tree.

The forewoman of the seven-member jury in federal district court in Central Islip said afterward that it believed the doctor might have stepped on the accelerator instead of the brake, as Toyota claimed.

"We believe it could have been a misapplication of the pedal," said Regina Desio of Plainview.

Dr. Amir Sitafalwalla claimed in a suit that his 2005 Toyota Scion tC accelerated even though his foot was on the brake on the evening of Aug. 20, 2005.

His lawyers, Albert Zafonte Jr. of Uniondale and George Statfield of Manhattan, blamed an allegedly flawed floor mat attachment system, which, they say, allowed the mat to bunch up beneath the brake pedal and press on the gas pedal.

"We believe that, under the law, Toyota Motor Sales sold a defective motor vehicle," Zafonte said in his summation.

The case was one of hundreds pending against Toyota alleging that its cars accelerated unintendedly and it appears to be the first to come to trial.

Toyota noted that, on the day of the incident, Sitafalwalla worked a 12-hour shift at a Brooklyn clinic but his lawyers noted that long hours are commonplace in medicine.

The automaker said there was no evidence that the mat had moved.

"If he had his foot on the brake this wreck could never have happened," company attorney Randy Bibb told the jurors in his summation. "He made a simple but unfortunate mistake."

Beginning in 2009 Toyota recalled about eight million of its vehicles for accelerator pedals that stuck or were trapped beneath mats, but the 2005 Scion in question had a different type of mat, not installed by Toyota, and no Scions were recalled.

Said Desio, "We just didn't think there were mechanical, brake or mat problems."

Zafonte and Statfield said they would decide later whether to appeal to the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

The suit originally alleged a defective electronic throttle control system but that specific issue never reached the jury.

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