Consumer Law

Toyota Road Trips Toward Recall

  • Update: Toyota recalls prompt Congress to pass new auto safety legislation
  • Hearings in Congress focus on auto industry regulations
  • Consumer safety recalls at Toyota dealerships
  • Minnesota man claims Toyota's failure to blame for crash



Fueled by outrage over the Toyota vehicle recalls, Congress plans to pass new auto safety legislation by July 4, 2010. Both House and Senate bills call for a doubling of federal funding for National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) vehicle safety programs.

The legislation requires the installation of event-data recorders, or black boxes, in all new vehicles to provide information on speed, acceleration and braking. Brake over-ride systems would also be mandatory. Federal penalties against automakers for safety defects would rise from a maximum $16.4 million to at least $200 million.

Original Article

A few months ago, car owners across the world were astonished to learn of Toyota's woes. Americans' favorite car had fallen from its rise to fame because of sudden acceleration problems. Now our attention is focused on stories of who knew what, when and how.

Results from the news have had far-reaching effects: Toyota's shareholders are not suing them for loss of stock value from covering up the issues, and a Minnesota man jailed for a car crash that killed three people claims it was Toyota who was guilty for his inability to brake and now wants his verdict reviewed.

Congress Looks at Vehicle Safety

Several months have passed since the news broke that Toyota vehicles had a design problem causing sudden acceleration. Drivers around the country reported their Toyotas would unexpectedly speed up and they couldn't slow down or stop. Safety problems were linked to 52 deaths. Hundreds of thousands of consumers returned their Toyotas to dealerships to get the problem fixed after Toyota recalled 8 ½ million vehicles.

This fallout has brought back memories of the frightening Firestone Tire/Ford Explorer recall of a decade ago. Large numbers of tire blowouts occurred resulting in vehicle rollovers. An estimated 250 people were injured or killed in these accidents.

In the public outcry over the tire blowout/rollover problems, Congress conducted hearings and ultimately passed a law known as the TREAD Act in 2000. This law helps the government find safety defects sooner, investigate sooner and make the public aware sooner.

Congress conducted three hearings questioning Toyota executives about whether the federal Transportation Department's safety division acted promptly and properly. Congress is now considering whether the TREAD Act or other laws need updating to protect consumers further.

Consumer Safety Recalls

The safety problems were linked to 52 deaths. Hundreds of thousands of consumers returned their Toyotas to dealerships to get the problem fixed, after Toyota recalled 8 ½ million vehicles.

The maximum amount the federal government can fine an automaker for failing to recall promptly is $16.4 million. Ray LaHood, the Secretary of Transportation, is looking into a recommendation that every new vehicle in the US be required to have brakes that can override the gas pedal. He says this change would involve an inexpensive upgrade to vehicles.

Minnesota Man Claims Accident Caused by Toyota

In the wake of the outcry over the Toyota recall, a Minnesota man claims it was his Toyota to blame for a fatal collision for which he was sentenced to prison. Koua Fond Lee, then 29, sped through an intersection at 70-90 mph in 2006, and three people died. Lee claims that his 1996 Toyota Camry unexpectedly accelerated and then the brakes failed.

Lee's attorney indicated they'll find experts to show it was a Toyota defect, and not Mr. Lee's fault, that caused the accident. CNN identified more than 20 complaints made to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration by 1996 Camry owners about speed control problems.

Identifying and proving design defects which cause product safety issues is a difficult and expensive task. Lawyers have to locate experts in the field and have them study the design and wade through volumes of studies and research to try to establish a link between the product and the injuries.

Attorneys often spend tens of thousands of dollars on experts for cases known as products liability cases. And even then they may have difficulty proving their case. Their experts have to be able to counter the manufacturer's expert's claims that the product was safe and was properly designed.

Questions for Your Attorney

  • How can I join a class action lawsuit that's already in court? Is it too late?
  • I no longer own Toyota stock; I sold it as soon as I heard the news of the recall and I lost a lot of money. Can I still file suit against Toyota or can I join a shareholder class action?
  • I own a Toyota dealership, and since the recalls I haven't been able to sell any vehicles. I may have to close the business. Can I sue Toyota over the lost business?
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