Reuters and The Wall Street Journal reported on Friday that Toyota Motor Corp. and the United States Department of Justice are close to a deal that would resolve a criminal investigation into how it disclosed to government regulators customers’ complaints about unintended acceleration. The Journal is reporting that the settlement would involve Toyota paying as much as $1 billion in fines, ending a four year investigation. Sources say that the deal could still fall apart, or the amount of money involved could change.
A Califonia jury ruled that Toyota Motor Corp was not at fault in a 2009 accident in which 66 year old Noriko Uno was killed when her 2006 Camry ran into a tree after being hit by another car. Uno’s survivors blamed the accident and her death on unintended acceleration and Toyota’s failure to incorporate a brake-override system in Uno’s car. This was the first wrongful death lawsuit over accusations that Toyota products could uncontrollably accelerate. The jury found that Uno’s Camry was not defective, instead placing full liability for her death on the driver of the car that hit Uno before she sped the wrong way down a one-way street and into the tree. Uno’s survivors were awarded $10 million.
After losing a motion to prevent him from appearing, Toyota Motor Corporation’s CEO for North America, Jim Lentz took the witness stand in a lawsuit filed by the survivors of a woman who was killed when her Camry allegedly sped out of control and hit a tree after it was hit by another car, whose driver is a co-defendant in the case. One issue in the court case is why Toyota did not equip Noriko Uno’s car with a brake override system that automatically closes the throttle when the brakes are applied.
The first wrongful death lawsuit concerning the sudden acceleration of Toyota cars to go to trial has started with opening arguments. According to Bloomberg, the lawyer for Noriko Uno’s family said that Toyota knew that their gas pedals could get stuck and that the company was liable for her death because Uno’s 2006 Camry did not have a brake override system. The Toyota that Uno, 66 at the time of her death, was hit by a car that ran a stop sign. Her Toyota subsequently accelerated down the wrong side of the road for 30 seconds before hitting a tree, causing her death. (Read More…)
Noriko Uno was killed in 2009 when her 2006 Toyota Camry sudenly accelerated to 100 MPH, resulting in her leaving the roadway and hitting a telephone pole and a tree in the median. Today, jury selection begins in a California lawsuit filed by her survivors.
A U.S. District Court judge gave final approval of the settlement of a lawsuit filed against Toyota on behalf of owners of Toyota vehicles who claimed that the car maker’s recalls related to unintended acceleration caused their cars to depreciate in value.
Remember the uproar over Unintended Acceleration in Toyotas? After more than a year of investigation, NHTSA has yet to find a definitive cause for the furor… although the experience was not an entire waste. In fact, the most interesting result of the entire situation was that it cast light on NHTSA’s inefficacy as much as it did embarrass Toyota’s quality control. And to help clarify what exactly the lessons of the Toyota flap were, the DOT’s Inspector General has released a report detailing its criticisms of the federal safety regulators. According to the report [PDF], NHTSA’s Office of Defect Investigation (ODI) has not
- Adequately tracked or documented pre-investigation activities.
- Established a systematic process for determining when to involve third-party or Vehicle Research and Test Center (VRTC) assistance
- Followed timeliness goals for completing investigations or fully implemented its redaction policy to ensure consumers’ privacy. [Ed: gee, you think?]
- Established a complete and transparent record system with documented support for decisions that significantly affect its investigations.
- Developed a formal training program to ensure staff has the necessary skills and expertise.
Remember when cars, especially Toyotas, suddenly had a mind of their own, started accelerating, leaving their drivers helpless and hapless? It was in the beginning of 2010. The media cited scores of allegedly killed people. Source: The NHTSA complaint database. When complaints skyrocketed, the media wrote about a dramatic increase of complaints. Now, have a look at the graph above. (Read More…)
Unintended acceleration has been a huge topic in automotive circles over the last year or so, as the Toyota Recall Scandal brought new attention to that man-machine-interface problem. But did you know Mercedes has been receiving its own complaints about UA? Neither did we, as a post-Toyota Recall survey of NHTSA complaints showed Mercedes enjoying one of the lowest rates of UA complaints of all manufacturers. But, reports WardsAuto, the problem was indeed real.
Just about anyone who has driven a Mercedes-Benz in the past decade has experienced it: unintended sudden acceleration because of awkward placement of the cruise-control stalk on the left side of the steering wheel.
A driver may think he is signaling to turn right, when inadvertently he has pushed the cruise control lever upward to the “accel” position, occasionally sending the vehicle bolting forward instead of slowing down to turn at an intersection. This could happen if the cruise control was on but not active.
Left turns were somewhat less problematic because pushing the lever downward put the cruise-control system into “decel” mode.
The first of some 400 lawsuits pending against Toyota in the wake of the unintended acceleration scandal will go to trial by 2013, reports Bloomberg. U.S. District Judge James V. Selna has asked plaintiff lawyers to select “bellwether” cases from the hundreds of personal-injury, wrongful-death and economic-loss suits pending against Toyota to go to trial by 2013. Selna didn’t specify what types of cases would become bellwethers, cases which crystallize the case’s arguments and provide precedent for damages in other cases, but he did state that evidence discovery for them should be wrapped up in 2012. But before any of the federal trials open, there are still state-level trials to be heard. According to Bloomberg
Selna told the lawyers today that two state-court cases involving sudden-acceleration allegations are scheduled to go to trial in Texas in February and March of next year. Wylie Aitken, who is the attorney maintaining a liaison with state cases, said during a break in the hearing that both of those cases are personal injury claims.
The story of Dimitrios Biller has been one of the more colorful sideshows in last year’s media-scourging of Toyota, complete with a “book of secrets,” accusations of corporate criminality, counter-accusations of mental instability and a congressional pissing match. But with the Toyota media circus long gone, it now seems that l’affaire Biller was just another distraction from the mundane truth of the unintended acceleration scare. As the Detroit News reports, Biller and Toyota’s legal struggle is over… and Toyota, not Biller, is going to get paid.
Biller, a California attorney who worked at Toyota Motor Sales USA for four years, from 2003 to 2007, and Toyota had agreed to have their disputes settled by binding arbitration, which limits the grounds for appeal.
Biller had sued Toyota for defamation and fraud, while Toyota had sued him for violating confidentiality and severance agreements.
Gary Taylor, a retired judge serving as the arbitrator, concluded in a final award that Toyota should receive $2.5 million in damages from Biller for 10 disclosure violations, plus $100,000 in punitive damages.
“The evidence showed that Toyota suffered, and will continue to suffer, multiple harms from Mr. Biller’s contract breaches,” Judge Taylor wrote.
He also ordered Biller to return documents, including attorney-client documents, he’d taken from Toyota and allow the company to inspect his computers.
The AP [via Google] reports that Toyota’s board has voted to pay $32.4m on top of the $16.4 it already paid the US Department of Transportation in connection with its handling of several recalls. The first involved Toyota’s handling of gas-pedal entrapment by floormats in its vehicles that were part of the Unintended Acceleration scandal earlier this year. The other involved steering rods in certain 4Runners and T-100 pickups that were not recalled despite a 2004 Japanese market recall for the same parts on Hilux pickups.