Seven more insurance companies have followed Allstate in filing a lawsuit against Toyota Motor Corp. to recover damages they paid out for auto accidents allegedly caused by sudden, unintended acceleration.
The Toyota sudden acceleration lawsuits were filed on December 30 in Los Angeles Superior Court by American Automobile Insurance Co., Ameriprise Insurance Co., American Hardware Mutual Insurance Co., Fireman’s Fund Insurance Co., IDS Property Casualty Insurance Co. Motorists Mutual Insurance Co., and National Surety Corp. The complaints seek a combined total of $230,000 in damages resulting from Toyota vehicles that accelerated out of the drivers’ control.
In October, Allstate Insurance Co. was the first carrier to sue Toyota over covering similar accidents. Allstate is seeking $3 million in compensation for covering property damage, personal injury claims and fatalities related to about 270 crashes it had to pay. Toyota officials sought to downplay the claims and characterized the lawsuits as a common dispute between automakers and insurance companies
According to the most recent claims, problems with unintended acceleration involving Toyota and Lexus vehicles resulted in at least 725 automobile accidents. The insurance companies say that Toyota should have installed an override system that put the vehicles into idle when both the brake and the accelerator were depressed at the same time.
The filings came just days after it was revealed that Toyota reached a $10 million wrongful death lawsuit settlement with the family of California state trooper Mark Saylor, his wife, daughter and brother-in-law; all of whom died in an August 2009 crash when the Lexus ES350 Saylor was driving accelerated out of control. During the accident, the Lexus accelerated to speeds as high as 120 m.p.h. before slamming into another vehicle and careening off an embankment. The accident gained national media attention as a result of a 9-1-1 call placed from inside the vehicle while it was accelerating out of control. In addition, witnesses reported that the car’s wheels burst into flames as Mark Saylor stood on the brakes in an attempt to stop the vehicle.
Approximately one month after the accident, on September 29, Toyota announced a floor mat recall impacting 3.8 million Toyota and Lexus vehicles that contained a certain type of floor mat on the driver’s side that could cause the accelerator to stick. Expansions and additional recalls eventually resulted in about 8.5 million Toyota or Lexus vehicles being recalled due to acceleration problems.
Days before the amount of the settlement was released, the U.S. Department of Transportation announced that Toyota was being fined $32.4 million as the result of two federal investigations into how it handled unintended acceleration recalls and steering rod defects. Government investigators say the company stalled on the recalls and failed to notify federal safety officials about the problems in a timely manner. The fines are the maximum allowed by law.
About 400 Toyota personal injury and wrongful death lawsuits have been centralized and consolidated under Judge James V. Selna for pretrial proceedings in the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California in Santa Ana as part of a multidistrict litigation (MDL). All of the lawsuits contain allegations that drivers or passengers experienced an injury or death after their Toyota vehicles accelerated unexpectedly out of control.