Sunday, February 7, 2010

Problems deepen for Toyota - recalls and troubling questions of accountability

We wrote last month about defects in certain models of Toyota, reportedly fixed in 2004 models, that have caused at least 19 deaths to date, and in particular about allegations by Toyota's own legal counsel that the company attempted to hide. Now, following a widely reported recalls for accelerator problems and additional reported problems with the braking systems on its popular Prius models, scrutiny of the company's quality control and its response to growing reports of dangerous defects has reached an all-time high.

In September 2009, Toyota issued a consumer advisory warning of unexpected acceleration caused by pedals caught in floor mats. The company's remedy for affected models involved simply removing the driver's side floor mats. The affected vehicles were:

• 2007 – 2010 Camry
• 2005 – 2010 Avalon
• 2004 – 2009 Prius
• 2005 – 2010 Tacoma
• 2007 – 2010 Tundra
• 2007 – 2010 ES350 (Lexus)
• 2006 – 2010 IS250 and IS350 (Lexus)

The January 2010 recall of 2.3 million vehicles (and the suspension of sales and production of eight models) revealed that the problems involved more than just defective placement of floor mats and, in fact, require repair of the accelerator assembly itself. The list of affected vehicles is similar to that of the September 2009 advisory, though not identical:

• Certain 2009-2010 RAV4
• Certain 2009-2010 Corolla
• 2009-2010 Matrix
• 2005-2010 Avalon
• Certain 2007-2010 Camry
• Certain 2010 Highlander
• 2007-2010 Tundra
• 2008-2010 Sequoia

Most recently, at least 100 owners of the latest model of the hybrid Toyota Prius have reported problems with the braking system. Toyota has acknowledged a problem, but stated that the defect is with an electronic system, rather than a mechanical connection, which should make it easier to repair. Although Toyota has not issued a recall notice on these vehicles at present, The Guardian reports that the company is making preparations to do so.

Recalls of automobiles are not uncommon, and in most cases repairs or retrofits can be accomplished before serious injury or harm occurs. What is disturbing about the Toyota recalls, as reported in The Economist this week, is that it was not until recently that the company took action, even though it had received hundreds of reports in recent years about the dangers of unintended acceleration in its vehicles. The New York Times echoed these concerns over Toyota's pattern of responding slowly to potentially deadly safety problems.

According to US Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, Toyota had to be pushed into undertaking the recall. Moreover, although Toyota claims that its fix for the defect will prevent further problems, the Transportation Department is investigating whether instances of unintended acceleration might be caused by interference with common electronic devices.

If you have questions about a Toyota defect or would like to speak with an attorney about a possible claim involving injuries or damages caused by defective motor vehicle, please contact John Hadden at Turkheimer & Hadden directly: 404-939-4525 or jhadden@haddenfirm.com.

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