The Truth About Cars » Lawyers The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. Thu, 17 Jul 2014 12:00:21 +0000 en-US hourly 1 The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. The Truth About Cars no The Truth About Cars (The Truth About Cars) 2006-2009 The Truth About Cars The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. The Truth About Cars » Lawyers New Record Fine Against Toyota? Or Record Fail Of Lawyers And Media? Mon, 14 Jun 2010 17:31:38 +0000

A lawsuit brought in California against Toyota led to the disclosure of allegedly damning documents that could cost Toyota another huge fine if the documents contain what the lawyers say. Unless lawyers (or the media) were asleep at the wheel. According to USA Today, these documents “point to possible delays involving an earlier safety issue, one that could result in loss of steering control.” USA Today says records that are part of the lawsuit show that Toyota was dealing with cracking and breaking steering relay rods in the U.S. for at least 11 years before it recalled 330,000 pickups and SUVs in Japan to replace the rods — and 12 years before its 2005 recall of nearly a million similar trucks in the U.S.

Sounds kind of familiar. I’m not suffering from Alzheimer yet, so let’s go on a fact-finding mission to the TTAC archives …

In April, Toyota was slapped with a $16.4m fine for delaying a recall due to defective accelerator pedals. Toyota paid without an admission of wrongdoing.  Then, the DOT said there could be a second fine, based on the theory that there were two separate defects in the pedals. In May, while Ray LaHood visited the Toyota headquarters, the DOT said that they are looking into a third fine, this time for the Hilux Surf that was recalled in Japan in 2004, but was recalled only a year later in the U.S. This was about steering rods that were subject to fatigue, cracks and breaks.

That sounds very much like what the lawyers unearthed in California.

Says USA Today today: “Now NHTSA — which accepted Toyota’s assertion after the 2004 steering rod recall in Japan that U.S. action was not needed — has opened a probe demanding that Toyota explain why it waited nearly a year to recall the compact pickups, 4Runner SUVs and T-100 pickups in the U.S. to fix the rods.”

As a matter of fact, the NHTSA had opened the probe months ago, but nobody is checking anymore. The press is just blindly writing what lawyers feed them. There is no mention of a fresh probe into Toyota on the NHTSA website. The NHTSA usually is not shy about these matters.

On May 10, 2010, NHTSA announced: “NHTSA Opens Investigation into Timeliness of 2005 Toyota Steering Relay Rod Recall.”  Ever since: Nothing. Cognoscenti will remember that the Hilux is sold as the 4Runner stateside.  Lawyers may not know that.

Nobody in the press thought it worthy of digging into this matter. Instead, everybody printed reams of warmed-over stories that sound like they were written by a lawyer.

In the computer age, it took us 10 minutes to find out that they were fed news that was more than a month old. They swallowed it. Can you get food poisoning from news that exceeded its shelf life? Lawyers should look into this.

]]> 5
AP: Toyota Suits Could Top $3b Tue, 09 Mar 2010 14:54:18 +0000

Thanks to the “optics” (if not the reality) of the latest Toyota sudden unintended acceleration scare, the story has new legs just as Toyota and Exponent were hoping to cut them off. But as much as dramatic, cop-calms-killer-Prius headlines keep the Great Toyota Panic alive, so to does the fact that the 89-odd class-action lawsuits filed against Toyota could be worth over $3b to plaintiffs and their counsel. And that’s not counting any of the incidents in which people were actually injured or killed (which are actually relatively rare). No, that $3b+ is going to the truly deserving… and their lawyers.

According to the AP, one vein of suits in particular, which accuses Toyota of concealing safety defects and causing the resale value of its vehicles to decline, could be worth $3b on its own, according to a lawyer’s estimate of a $500 settlement being paid to 6m Toyota owners. But even that doesn’t explain what’s really driving this story: with settlement amounts projected in the billions, lawyers fees could easily reach $1b.

On March 25, a panel of federal judges will convene in San Diego to decide if may of the Toyota cases can be rolled into a single jurisdiction. If they can find judges who aren’t potential class members. As one judge scheduled to preside on that panel noted,

The court owns a 2000 Toyota Avalon SLX. In addition, the adult son of the court who has not lived in the court’s home for many years owns a 2005 Prius.

]]> 13
The Toyota Testimony, Day One: A Comedy In Three Parts: Act One: The Expert Evidence Wed, 24 Feb 2010 16:26:35 +0000
It’s been nearly a year since the automotive industry has been treated to a must-watch DC hearing. The last time around, when the executives of America’s automakers went begging to congress for multi-billion dollar bailouts, hearings were heated and combative. Though liberally sprinkled with irony and comedic ignorance, those hearings were, at their heart, a traditional partisan stand-off. But bailouts are also a relatively cut-and-dried topic: you either support them for solid political reasons, or you oppose them for equally solid, equally political reasons. But faced with a national bogeyman of legendary mystery, the lurking terror of unintended acceleration, congress’s task was more complicated than the bailout’s do-we-or-don’t-we dilemma. Tasked with uncovering the truth behind a complex technical problem, is it any wonder that yesterday’s hearings before the House Energy Committee took a turn for the strangely hilarious? [Editor's note: full prepared statements from all witnesses are available in PDF format here full video of all of yesterday's testimony is available at CSPAN]

Watching congress tackle the problem of out-of-control cars is something like watching a panel of tenured literature professors struggle to open a jar of pickles: the problem isn’t necessarily that the individuals involved aren’t intelligent, it’s that they are stunningly ill-prepared for the task. Not only are most representatives not trained to understand the complexities of automotive systems, they’re also constitutionally incapable of contemplating the possibility that as one of America’s best-selling brands, Toyota likely sells a lot of cars to stupid people. The possibility that even a small percentage of the unintended acceleration cases might have been caused by (or at least were not averted because of) human error was, at best, only obliquely hinted at for the simple reason that congressional hearings always require a satisfyingly sinister scapegoat. Just as nobody blamed individuals for voluntarily taking on risky mortgages during the subprime lending crisis hearings, there was little doubt that anybody other than Toyota and the NHTSA would be blamed for the deaths resulting from sudden unintended acceleration. Therefore, congress’s task was to understand the problem in such a way that consciously kept attention on these two, admittedly imperfect organizations.

Luckily for congress, there is no shortage of “expert witnesses” willing to place all of the blame on Toyota and the NHTSA, and the first act of yesterday’s hearings opened with testimony from a select few of these witnesses. These witnesses, Sean Kane of Safety Research & Strategies, David Gilbert of Southern Illinois University, and unintended acceleration victim Rhonda Smith of Sevierville, Tenn, were called to fill in the obvious gaps in the committees knowledge of the complexities of sudden unintended acceleration. Unfortunately, these three witnesses probably confused the committee as much as they did enlighten it.

Ms Smith was the first witness to place her statement on the record, and she delivered her testimony with the kind of folksy gravitas that makes congress weak in the knees. Better yet, her story was so outrageously inexplicable that congress was faced with only two options: take her story at face value or suggest (as Toyota has) that Ms Smith’s story can not be fully explained without relying on a belief in divine (or diabolical) intervention. Ms Smith and her husband certainly didn’t deny the role of the supernatural in her experience, but because the hearing’s pre-determined villains had implied that the lack of rational explanations for her incident placed a certain amount of responsibility on her shoulders, repetition of such suggestions would not have served the hearing’s purpose.

In providing an inexplicable example of unintended acceleration, the Smith’s testimony set the tone for the rest of the hearing. No other witnesses were called to provide supporting evidence of the apparent simultaneous brake, engine and transmission control failure that Ms Smith claims to have experienced. As a result, the hearings proceeded with congress’s limited engineering knowledge enhanced only by a single scenario in which an untrained witness described a vehicle that was clearly possessed by some mysterious, malignant force. Which, as it turns out, suited the final two expert witnesses just fine.

Sean Kane, an analyst for the independent Safety Research & Strategies, was not able to offer any better explanation for Toyota’s unintended acceleration problems than the Smiths. First blaming Toyota for failing to recognize the problem of pedal entrapment, Kane then went on to claim that pedal entrapment couldn’t explain most UA complaints on the record. This strategy added to Toyota’s halo of shame while consciously failing to present any rational explanation for what might be causing the incidents beyond the lurking, sci-fi menace of electronics gone mysteriously wrong. Kane’s expert backup, Dr. Gilbert, was no more helpful, proving only that he was able to cause UA in Toyotas without triggering an error code.

After one first-hand account and two expert witnesses, the committee actually knew less than they had before the hearing began. Worse still, the evidence they did hear was orchestrated in such a way as to leverage this ignorance: the Smiths proved only that no driver should be held accountable for UA in a Toyota because shifting into neutral and even reverse at 100 mph (let alone using brakes and emergency brakes) hadn’t stopped the car (until it did), while Kane proved that mysterious Toyota-exclusive electronic problems are widespread, and Gilbert proved that they are untraceable.

Needless to say, this was no coincidence. As these three witnesses fielded confused questions from the committee some key facts arose about their testimony: first, Kane’s report was sponsored by five law firms, each of which have suits pending against Toyota and second, that Kane had paid Gilbert for his analysis. If these facts (and Kane and Gilbert’s huffy reactions to them) altered the opinion of any committee members, it didn’t matter. These were the only witnesses called, and when they were finished, the time had come for congress to grill the bad guys: Toyota’s Jim Lentz and and Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood.

]]> 50
Bailout Watch 574: Legal Bills To Pile Up Through 2010 Mon, 30 Nov 2009 19:54:02 +0000 A lose-lose situation... unless you're a lawyer. (courtesy:abc news)

Compared to the tens of billions of dollars in lost taxpayer investments in GM and Chrysler, the lawyer bills for the twin bankruptcies are relatively inexpensive. The Freep reports that legal and consulting fees have already exceeded $120m, with another $3m pending for September and October, and more to come. According to court records, Chrysler’s chief financial advisors during its bankruptcy, Capstone Advisory Group, has received $17m in taxpayer money, with some $10m going directly to the firm’s Executive Director Robert Manzo. Chrysler’s lead counsel, Day Jones, received $40m through last August, and estimates place the firm’s eventual tab to total somewhere around $115m. GM’s bankruptcy advisors AlixPartners and Evercore Partners received $26m and $13m respectively, while its head lawyers, Weil, Gotshal & Manges received nearly $72m. And with the liquidations of Old GM and Chrysler far from over, the legal bills will continue to mount, likely past 2010.

]]> 4