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.
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.”
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.
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
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.
Koua Fong Lee, who had spent over two years behind bars for his role in a collision that killed three people, was freed today when a judge vacated his sentence. The reason: ineffective legal counsel, and evidence that suggested Lee’s 1996 Toyota Camry could have been driving out of control. The Ramsey County (MN) prosecutor has decided against re-trying Lee, making him a free man. Meanwhile, the fact that 1996 Toyota Camrys have not been recalled for faulty brakes or throttle units leaves a huge question mark hanging over this case.
Imagine yourself going down the road with your foot on the brake pedal all the time. This is a Japanese inventor’s idea to stop driver error and unintended acceleration. To accelerate, you move your foot sideways against an accelerator bar. To brake, you stomp on the brake. A horrible thought – if you are a personal injury lawyer. (Read More…)
An anonymous Toyota Tech sent us these recent images of a 2008 Prius and its highly questionable pedal-floormat interface. Did nobody tell this guy that Toyota has had some problems with floormat pedal interference, and that there had been a recall? Did he somehow miss the months-long media frenzy? This is yet more proof that there is literally no way to completely prevent unintended acceleration, even if the problem has been identified and a recall has been issued. Remember folks, when it comes to cars only you can keep you safe.
We didn’t make it down to the first meeting of the NHTSA-National Research Council panel tasked with studying unintended acceleration, but apparently we weren’t the only ones. A scan of the MSM confirms that a number of “more study is needed” stories were filed for the occasion, a good two weeks ago now, but we’ve been pointed towards the presentations for that meeting [available for download here, all 128 slides in PDF format here], and we feel comfortable drawing a few conclusions from them. In fact, we’d even argue that this data puts a lot of the controversy over unintended acceleration in Toyotas to rest.
Carquestions noticed a troubling issue with the latest Wall Street Journal report on the investigation of Toyota’s black-box data: the report cites its anonymous source as saying that “black box” event data recorders (EDRs) can lose their data if disconnected from the battery. Carquestions points out that this is not the case, cites the appropriate regulations and concludes that it sounds like this source doesn’t know what he or she is talking about. Meanwhile, Jalopnik is running with the story that Toyota planted the story… but then, why would Toyota imply that its own black boxes don’t meet regulatory standards? Especially when Toyota’s official comment is that it has yet to draw any conclusions from the investigation. For a story with such a logical conclusion (yes, most people are bad drivers) this is all getting a bit complicated.
Much of the hysteria over a possible electronic cause for the Toyota unintended acceleration scandal (aka “the ghost in the machine”) stemmed from an ABC report featuring Southern Illinois University professor David Gilbert. Gilbert demonstrated to ABC’s Brian Ross that unintended acceleration could be triggered in Toyotas without generating an error code, but the report didn’t address the likelihood of this happening. Furthermore, ABC was found to have used misleading footage in that report. Gilbert went on to testify in one of the least convincing panels ever convened before congress, and even after Toyota held an event aimed solely at debunking his suspicions, Gilbert has persisted in believing that something is wrong with Toyota’s electronics. As a result, the AP [via CBC] reports that Toyota has pulled funding for two internships at SIU, two Toyota employees resigned from its automotive technology program advisory board, and another demanded that Gilbert be fired. The AP seems very keen to call these retaliations “smears,” but given recent revelations about the government investigation into Toyota’s electronic throttle control system, it seems that Gilbert and SIU are simply reaping what they’ve sown.