Product liability lawsuits and wrongful death lawsuits against Toyota Motor Corp. are beginning to mount in the wake of recent gas pedal problems with Toyota vehicles, which have resulted in the recall of more than 5 million cars, pick-up trucks and sports utility vehicles.
Owners have complained that their Toyota vehicles, some of which were sold under the Lexus brand, suddenly began to accelerate out of control, resulting in serious and sometimes fatal accidents.
The problems first gained national attention following an August 2009 accident in California involving an off-duty state trooper and three family members who were killed while driving a Lexus ES 350 on loan from a San Diego dealership. Minutes before the fatal crash, passengers called police to report that the Toyota-manufactured vehicle was accelerating out of control at speeds as high as 120 m.p.h. Witnesses reported that the car’s tires were on fire, which was likely due to the driver slamming on the brakes before hitting another vehicle, falling off an embankment, rolling multiple times and bursting into flames.
In September 2009, a Lexus and Toyota recall was issued for 3.8 million vehicles that contained certain all-weather floor mats, which Toyota indicated could get stuck under the gas pedals. Following that recall it was reported by the New York Times that Toyota knew about the potential acceleration problems for more than two and a half years before issuing the recall.
What is believed to be the first class action lawsuit against Toyota over the acceleration problems was filed in November 2009. In that case, two vehicle owners who experienced problems suggested that the floor mats were not the only cause of the sudden acceleration, alleging that Toyota failed to correct a problem with the throttle control system. The plaintiffs claimed that the original design for the system, known as the ETCS-i, included a safety feature that would have put the engine into idle mode in case of unintended acceleration. However, Toyota allegedly decided to sell the vehicles without the feature in 2001.
In late November, Toyota updated their prior floor mat recall to indicate that they will replace the gas pedals on the Toyota and Lexus vehicles that were part of the initial recall. The company indicated that the gas pedals will be shortened on some models and that the floor surface beneath the pedal will be reconfigured on certain models. New brake over-ride systems were also included as part of the corrective action, designed to address the problem of some vehicles not stopping when the accelerator and brake and gas pedals are pressed down at the same time. Toyota indicated that the override feature will be standard on all future models.
Earlier this month, Toyota issued yet another recall for 2.3 million Toyota vehicles, including 600,000 that were not subject to the prior floor mat recall. The company indicated that they discovered that the accelerator pedals may stick on these Toyota vehicles, which included the Camry, Corolla, Tundra and other models. The accelerator pedal mechanism was found to mechanically stick in a partially depressed position or return slowly to the idle position in some circumstances.
This week, Toyota took the rare step of halting production and sales for eight different models of vehicles with the gas pedal problems. The action was taken until a fix for the defect could be finalized.
In the wake of the continuing Toyota accelerator problems, a growing number of lawsuits continue to be filed on behalf of vehicle owners or family members of those who died in a crash when their Toyota vehicle accelerated out of control. According to a report by Bloomberg News, there have been at least seven individual lawsuits against Toyota and three class-action suits filed so far.
Last week, Joseph Hauter, of Los Angeles County, California, filed a Toyota gas pedal lawsuit against Toyota Motor Company in federal court in Santa Ana, claiming that his 2008 Tundra pickup accelerated out of control while he pulled into a service station
Among the Toyota wrongful death lawsuits filed is a case brought by the family of a woman who was killed in April 2008 when her 2005 Toyota Camry allegedly sped out of control and crashed into a tree at 80 m.p.h. Another case was filed on behalf of a woman who was killed in an accident in September 2007 when a friend lost control of a 2005 Camry.