On August 2nd, the Plaintiffs in a proposed class action filed an amended complaint alleging Toyota vehicle defects caused sudden and unintended acceleration problems. (In re Toyota Motor Corp. Unintended Acceleration Marketing, Sales Practice, and Products Liability Litigation, C.D. Cal., No. 8:10ML151) The complaint alleges that Toyota’s internal company documents show Toyota knew of the sudden acceleration problems as far back as 2003. Toyota disputes these claims and has stated that company engineers in over 10 years of testing have never found an incident where such a defect has caused unintended acceleration. Toyota maintains that the unintended acceleration was caused by defective floor mats and accelerator pedals – both of which have been addressed by safety recalls.
The amended complaint alleges Toyota knew about the sudden acceleration problems and failed to install a brake override system that it knew could have prevented accidents. The first amended complaint was filed in the U.S. District in Southern California on behalf of nearly 40 consumers and businesses. This past April, the Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation transferred the federal suits for consolidated pretrial proceedings. This amended complaint proposes a nationwide consumer class action seeking economic damages, including diminished car values, on behalf of owners of various models of Toyota and Lexus vehicles.According to BNA, a second complaint was filed on behalf of rental car companies, auto dealers, and other non-consumer entities alleging financial harm due to the defects. A third complaint was filed seeking damages for foreign owners of Toyota vehicles. Additionally, Toyota shareholders have also filed a separate case which is before the Southern California District court.
The Plaintiffs allege that Toyota vehicles were flawed due to the incorporation of an electronic throttle control system. The amended complaint says the number of unintended acceleration complaints increased nearly five-fold for the Lexus ES luxury sedan in the first year that Toyota introduced the throttle control system. The number of complaints also jumped once the Toyota Tacoma pickup included the system. Toyota has responded that the Plaintiffs have yet to point out any specific defect in the electronic throttle control system.
Toyota has actively disputed all the defect claims to date, other than the floor mat and sticking accelerator pedal. Toyota has conducted an internal investigation and taken steps to improve safety and quality,including:
– allowing for additional testing and customer feedback during the development phase of new vehicles;
– dedicating 1,000 additional engineers to quality activities;
– “actively seeking input from respected independent experts in Japan, the United States and elsewhere” to improve quality assurance procedures;
– conducting faster and more aggressive recalls in North America and localizing manufacturing and engineering leadership; and
– expanding the Product Quality Field Office program throughout the United States and Canada.
Valerie Paula is an Associate in the Regulatory Affairs Department at Dorsey & Whitney, LLC. Please see our web site at www.dorsey.com.