Following a four-year criminal investigation into Toyota’s disclosure of safety issues and product defects, the Japanese automaker has agreed to pay a fine of $1.2 billion to the U.S. government, according to an AP report released on March 19th.
The investigation suggested that Toyota has not been forthright in reporting faulty parts in their vehicles, specifically in relation to unintended acceleration problems.
The first indicators of trouble for Toyota Motor Corp. began in 2009, when the company had to issue several massive recalls, primarily in the U.S., due to a number of malfunctions relating to faulty brakes, gas pedals and floor mats. In total, the recalls affected more than 10 million vehicles.
Between 2010 and 2012, Toyota was fined over $66 million for dragging their feet on fixing these problems and others. Last year alone, the automaker agreed to shell out more than a billion dollars to settle hundreds of lawsuits from Toyota car owners claiming they suffered economic losses because of the recalls—that doesn’t even include the 200 or so wrongful death and car accident injury claims that are currently pending against Toyota in California state and federal courts.
The settlement agreement with the federal government comes on the cusp of an Oklahoma court decision that found Toyota was liable for the death of a 76 year old woman back in 2007. The jury ruled that the woman’s 2005 Camry, which sped out of control and crashed when exiting a highway, had a defect in the electrical system and Toyota was “reckless” in their disregard to the known issue.
This ruling came at a critical moment, because until this point Toyota had been dismissed of fault in three similar injury and wrongful death cases. Even still, the automaker continues to hold the position that their vehicles are not flawed, instead blaming drivers for the problems.
For instance, in the Oklahoma case, they suggested that the woman accidentally pushed down on the gas pedal instead of the brake. But after listening to the testimony of an expert witness who said he found mechanical defects in the car’s electronics, the jury sided with the plaintiff and Toyota was forced to pay $3 million in damages.
Reports of problems with spontaneous acceleration have increased substantially since Toyota introduced its ETCS-i system, which uses computer sensors to operate the throttle. However, the plaintiffs’ lawyers are arguing that these sensors can be triggered from the outside, thus opening up the throttle so much that the car’s brakes aren’t able to stop the surging vehicle.
The legal action Toyota now faces is less about whether these defects exist, and more a question of how long the company was aware of the problems and did nothing—leading to the death, injury and endangerment of thousands of drivers around the country.
News of this major settlement will undoubtedly set a precedent not just for Toyota, but the liability of the auto industry as a whole for defective vehicles and delayed recalls.
If you believe your car had a defect which led to an accident, or you were involved in an accident caused by another driver or their car, visit our knowledge center and schedule an appointment with a Nashville car accident attorney immediately to discuss your case.