Reuters reports that Orange County District Attorney Tony Rackauckas along with private attorneys filed the first U.S. consumer protection lawsuit against Toyota USA. The main charge is that Toyota has endangered the public by selling defective vehicles and engaged in deceptive business practices. From the 18 page suit filed Friday morning:
“Against this backdrop of fraud and concealment, Toyota has for decades touted its reputation for safety and reliability and knew that people bought its vehicles because of that reputation and yet purposefully chose to conceal and suppress the existence and nature of defects,”
The suit seeks to restrain Toyota “from continuing to endanger the public through the sale of defective vehicles and deceptive business practices.” Toyota said it has no immediate comment.
Rackauckas is a Republican who is also up for re-election this year. He defended his hiring of private attorneys, and said that they will be paid out of any proceeds from the lawsuit. One lone protester at the courthouse insisted that the suit was being done for political gain.
Rackauckas told reporters he was becoming increasingly concerned about the safety of consumers and that his office has jurisdiction because Toyota’s U.S. headquarters is in California.
The suit charges that Toyota knew about the defects in “selling and leasing hundreds of thousands of cars and trucks with defects that caused sudden unexpected and uncontrollable acceleration.”
From the Detroit News:
Legal experts said they were surprised by Rackauckas’ suit. “It’s very unusual for a product liability matter to turn into a criminal or consumer fraud investigation,” said Robert Mintz, a former federal prosecutor now a partner with McCarter & English in Newark, N.J.
Ed Higgins, co-head of the product liability practice group at Plunkett Cooney in Detroit, said the county’s action was “extremely uncommon.”
And thus it begins. Or continues.