By on July 15, 2011

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.

(Read More…)

By on April 19, 2011

By on January 16, 2011

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.

By on January 5, 2011

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.

By on December 20, 2010

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.

(Read More…)

By on October 29, 2010

Bloomberg reports that a lawsuit accuses Toyota of a widespread coverup of unintended acceleration in its vehicles. The suit alleges that

“Toyota technicians” confirmed that vehicles were unexpectedly accelerating and the company bought back the vehicles, had customers sign confidentiality agreements and didn’t disclose the problems to regulators… In testimony about acceleration defects before Congress, Toyota Motor Corp. didn’t disclose that the technicians had replicated instances of sudden unintended acceleration not caused by pedals or mats… The company also didn’t report the customer agreements to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration… Toyota ordered employees to remove names of executives from acceleration related e-mails and to stop using specific acceleration terms in e-mails to prevent damage to the company in litigation

Toyota’s response:

Steven Curtis, a spokesman for Toyota’s U.S. sales arm in Torrance, California, said today in an e-mail that no technicians for the company or field specialists confirmed unintended acceleration in vehicles. He said the plaintiffs’ lawyers are referring to service technicians employed by dealerships, which are independent businesses… the claims are based on anecdotes and fail to identify any specific defects in the vehicles.

Plaintiffs claim that dealer techs are “agents of the company” and that vehicle repurchases and confidentiality agreements are proof positive of a coverup. Toyota admits that it investigated and repurchased two vehicles after dealer techs found “acceleration events,” but says its factory technicians were unable to replicate any problems. If this sounds like a complicated mess of he-said-she-said, consider that this suit is just one of 300 currently pending against the world’s largest automaker. The lawyers will probably be busy with this one for decades.

By on October 5, 2010

The day after Toyota announced that it still hasn’t found an electronic cause for unintended acceleration in its vehicles and that UA complaints are down 80%, Consumer Affairs reports that Allstate Insurance filed a $3m suit against the Japanese automaker, claiming it “essentially hid the problem.” The suit, filed in the Southern Californian district court that is hearing all UA-related suits against Toyota alleges

This has resulted in numerous claims of instances of property damage and injuries, including in some instances fatalities

Furthermore, the suit claims that it had to compensate UA-related claims because Toyota hadn’t fitted a brake-override to its vehicles, a feature that is not yet required by law. Toyota is adding brake-override to all of its 2011 models, but claims that Allstate’s charges “have no basis.”

(Read More…)

By on September 18, 2010

Toyota and the families of four people who died when dealership loaner Lexus ES crashed after a reported unintended acceleration event, have settled out of court reports Bloomberg. The crash gained national attention and helped spur on the media frenzy around unintended acceleration in Toyotas. Toyota CEO Akio Toyoda had previously apologized to the family of the driver, Mark Saylor, during congressional testimony. Needless to say, Toyota is not disclosing the terms of its settlement, saying only that

Through mutual respect and cooperation we were able to resolve this matter without the need for litigation.

Considering it was a Lexus dealer who had put non-standard mats in the Saylor car, and had previously been warned that it had a sticky accelerator, Toyota’s willingness to settle seems driven more by PR considerations than liability.

By on September 14, 2010
Toyota is admitting that its black-box recorder readers have an error that can cause erroneous speed readings, as demonstrated by a 2007 Tundra crash in which the black box indicated a 170 MPH crash speed.  Toyota R&D boss Takeshi Uchiyamada tells Automotive News [sub]
Toyota has acknowledged previously that the event data recorders are not accurate. We have been able to determine that there is no defect in the event data recorders… we have found that there was a software bug in the event data recorder readers that download data. The bug had to do with data that indicated speed
Though this is a far cry from the “ghost in the machine” that many seemed to think was causing Toyotas to run out of control, it does cast some doubt on NHTSA’s finding that brakes were not applied in “dozens” of cases… but not directly. After all, just because the black box readers misread recorded speeds doesn’t mean that none of their readings can be trusted.  Still, yet another problem with Toyota’s gear will only further cloud the appropriate conclusion from the Toyota Unintended Acceleration scandal: that driver error was the main cause of the frenzy. And because of Toyota’s strange pre-scandal black-box reader policies, this latest revelation only heightens the mystery surrounding what should be a fairly open-and-shut case.
By on August 18, 2010

I am looking under every rock and asking the question: Is there anything wrong or unusual about our pedals? We are continuing to look to see if there is something that we could do differently.

Toyota’s Steve St. Angelo tells the WSJ [sub] that Toyota is reviewing its pedal designs in search of a cause for its recent Unintended Acceleration scandal. Thus far, Toyota’s UA issues have been traced only to sticky pedals and floormat interference. Attempts to trace UA to malfunctioning throttle units have thus far been abortive, with a government research panel finding that brake misapplication occurred in many of the Toyota UA incidents.

(Read More…)

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