Toyota Steering Defect Lawsuits Consolidated in California

Four wrongful death lawsuits in California, which allege Toyota knew that faulty steering rods some of their SUV and pickups may snap and lead to a fatal auto accident, have been consolidated in Los Angeles Superior Court.

The Toyota lawsuits claim that the automaker was too slow in recalling about one million 4Runners produced between 1990 and 1995 after they discovered the defective steering rods, which allegedly snapped in each of the four accidents, causing four deaths, including an infant.

Toyota recalled the vehicles in 2005, but an investigation in Japan after a 2004 accident suggested that company executives knew of the potential steering rod problem for years and ignored the risk.

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About 330,000 affected vehicles were recalled in Japan in 2004 due to the steering rods, which can break under extreme steering conditions. However, one million of the same vehicles in the United States were not recalled until 2005. In 2006, the Japanese transportation ministry admonished the car maker regarding its recall procedures and ordered improvements.

The consolidated wrongful death lawsuits against Toyota claim that the company did not inform the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) that it had received complaints about the steering defect in the U.S. at the same time that it recalled the vehicles in Japan.

Toyota also faces a number of other product liability lawsuits over the 4Runner, including claims that some of the vehicles are inherently unstable and lack adequate safety equipment.

Toyota 4Runner wrongful death lawsuits were filed this summer by the families of Jeffrey Bachman and Elise Obediente. Bachman died in April 2008 when his 1998 Toyota 4Runner SUV rolled over while he attempted to change lanes on Interstate 95 north of Wade, North Carolina. Obediente died in May 2009 when her 4Runner rolled over as she over-steered to avoid a vehicle involved in another accident. In both Bachman and Obediente’s accidents, the drivers were partially ejected from their vehicles due to roof crush damage.

Both of those Toyota 4Runner rollover lawsuits contain similar allegations that the SUV’s high center of gravity and narrow track width give it a known propensity for rollover accidents that Toyota either knew or should have known about before selling the vehicle to the public. The lawsuits allege that Toyota failed to disclose knowledge that the vehicle had performed poorly in safety tests and could tip over at speeds as low as 32 miles per hour.

Last month we reported that a former high-ranking attorney for Toyota, Dimitrios P. Biller, disclosed that his former employer routinely withheld evidence involving weak and poorly designed roofs used in Toyota SUVs and pick-up trucks. As a result of the allegations, several attorneys are seeking to reopen prior Toyota rollover lawsuits.

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