Toyota received another subpoena requesting information about vehicle defects in June 2010. This time a federal grand jury in New York wanted company documents related to steering defects. Toyota said it’s complying with the subpoena, but it didn’t say which vehicle models were involved.
The subpoena request might relate to a National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) investigation into Toyota’s recall of SUVs and trucks in September 2005. The vehicles were recalled because of problems with their steering relay rods. The NHTSA is looking into whether Toyota notified the agency of the defect within five days as required by law.
Involvement by the grand jury raises the possibility of criminal charges being filed.
The snowball began rolling in August 2009 when a Lexus crashed, apparently because the gas pedal was stuck. Four people were killed. Six months later, in February 2010, the snowball has grown to about the size of New Jersey's population as over 8 million Toyota vehicles are being recalled for problems like:
- Faulty floor mats, which may be causing gas pedals to become stuck open
- Gas pedals that don't work properly and may become stuck open
These mechanical issues and claims of personal injury aren't Toyota's only problems.
Dozens of Toyota owners across the US have filed lawsuits against Toyota, but not because they've been injured because of a mechanical problem. Rather, these owners claim they've suffered "economic damages" because of the mechanical problems and massive recalls. What does that mean?
It's legal jargon meaning that the car owners have lost something of value and Toyota is responsible for making them whole again by paying for the loss. There are two main claims in these lawsuits. The mechanical problems and recalls have caused:
Lost value of the owners' cars, especially their resale value. This causes a loss on their investment, and it makes it harder to sell or trade-in their cars. There are reports that Edmonds, the National Automobile Dealers Association(NADA), and Kelley Blue Book have lowered the resale value of Toyotas by up to 3.5%, and it's expected to drop more.
Loss of use. Some owners claim that the mechanical problems and recalls have caused them to stop driving their cars, at least until repairs can be made. In the meantime, they have to find others forms of transportation, like rental cars. This is not only is expensive, but inconvenient, too.
A "class action" lawsuit is where a group of people with the same or similar legal problem join together and file a single lawsuit. This allows the courts to resolve dozens or even hundreds of individual lawsuits or claims all at the same time.
Right now, Tim Howard, a faculty member at Northeastern University's law program, is trying to wrap all of the economic damage lawsuits against Toyota into one national class action lawsuit. He's leading a group or "consortium" of over 20 law firms with practices in 16 states.
The consortium plans to file individual lawsuits across the US. On March 25, 2010, the group plans to ask a California federal court to decide if the cases, and perhaps others already filed, can be joined together into a single class action suit.
Toyota owners affected by the company's mechanical problems and recalls have several options, including:
- Fix your car and that's it
- Contact an attorney to discuss if it's worth your while to file a lawsuit on your own to recover any damages you've suffered
- Join a class action lawsuit - If you get a notice in the mail about a class action lawsuit, you can either join it or "opt out" of the suit. Read any notice you get very carefully for instructions on how to join and what happens if you don't join the suit
- Check local and national newspapers (like USA Today) in the "Legal Notices" section to see if a class action suit has been filed in your area. The notice will give you instructions on who to contact to join the suit
A car - your car - is a big investment. Do what you can to protect it. You don't have to file a lawsuit, but if that's the only way to protect yourself completely, you should consider doing so.
Questions For Your Attorney
- Do I have to pay attorney's fees if I'm part of a class action?
- Can you start a class action, or do I have to join one that's already been filed? If it's filed in California do I have travel there for the trial?
- Don't class action lawsuits usually settle out of court? What if I join a suit but don't want to settle it?