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.
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
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.