You may recall the news reports in the mid to late 2000’s regarding sudden acceleration issues affecting several models of Toyota and Lexus vehicles. At the time, there were many stories emerging of individuals in those vehicles experiencing sudden acceleration, losing control, being unable to bring it to a stop, and ultimately resulting in horrific crashes.
Eventually there were some recalls issues, Toyota was fined, lawsuits were settled, and it seemed everyone moved on. However, these sudden acceleration issues continue to persist today and cause very troubling crashes. In fact, over the last few years I have had several cases involving this very concerning issue. Moreover, in each case my client was charged with reckless driving despite being the victim of equipment malfunction.
The Background And Beginning
Starting in 2002, Toyota began to see a large number of complaints regarding sudden acceleration of their vehicles resulting in crashes. There were several investigations that ensued but none seemed to find a permanent solution to this problem. At the same time, Toyota seemed to be dismissive of the sudden acceleration issue often concluding it was simply a matter of user error.
Things began to change on August 28, 2009 when California Highway Patrol officer Mark Saylor and his family passed away in a terrible crash while driving a 2009 Lexus ES350. Saylor was able to call 911 and explain that the brakes in the vehicle were not stopping his car before ultimately losing control of the vehicle. Tragically, no one in Saylor’s vehicle survived the crash.
Thereafter, Toyota issued a number of recalls including the all weather matts believed to be the major culprit of sudden acceleration. They also began making alterations to the accelerator in an effort to prevent this sudden acceleration issue from being an ongoing concern. Initially there were just a few smaller recalls. However, following the Saylor crash Toyota issued several major recalls to address this problem. The table below reflects the recalls issued by Toyota from 2005 – 2013.
|Recall #||Date||Year/Make/Model||# of Vehicles|
|05V-565||12-16-05||2006 Lexus IS250||3,567|
|06V-253||07-11-06||2004-05 Highlander, Lexus RX330, 2006 Highlander HEV, Lexus RX400H||367,594|
|07E-082||09-26-07||PT908-32070, PT908-33070, PT908-33071||55,000|
|09V-388||10-5-09||2004-10 Prius, 2005-10 Avalon, Tacoma, 2006-10 Lexus IS, 2007-10 Camry, Tundra, Lexus ES350||3,800,000|
|10V-017||01-21-10||2005-10 Avalon, 2007-10 Camry, Tundra, 2008-10 Sequoia, 2009-10 Corolla, Corolla Matrix, RAV4||2,230,661|
|10V-023||01-27-10||2008-10 Highlander, 2009-10 Corolla, Matrix, Venza||1,126,915|
|11V-112||02-24-11||2004-06 Highlander, Highlander Hybrid, 2004-07 Lexus RX330, RX350, RX400H||769,379|
|11V-113||02-24-11||2003-09 4Runner, 2006-10 RAV4, 2008-11 Lexus LX570||1,363,244|
|11V-115||02-24-11||2006-07 Lexus GS300, GS350||19,647|
|12V-305||06-29-12||2010 Lexus RX350, RX450H||154,036|
The Fines And Civil Penalties
However, the NHTSA issued series of civil penalties against the car manufacturer for failing to do the recalls in a timely manner. In 2010 Toyota paid a total of $48.4 million in fines and civil penalties from three separate investigation. Additionally, in 2012 the car manufacturer was required to pay an additional $17.35 million in fines. Finally, in March of 2014 the Department of Justice levied a record breaking $1.2 billion financial penalty against Toyota for their actions surrounding this issue.
The Law Suits
In August of 2010 a class action was filed against Toyota alleging economic loss to Toyota owners based on diminished value of their vehicles. In December of 2014 that class action was settled for $1.6 billion. While this was ongoing there was an individual case involving an Oklahoma City driver, Jean Bookout.
In the early investigations of sudden acceleration matter, NASA did a study finding, “no evidence that a malfunction in electronics caused large unintended accelerations.” However, one of the scientist involved had reservations about the study and results. He later published papers on the existence of metal whiskers in the Toyota parts studied and how that could relate to the sudden acceleration problem. As part of the Bookout trial and expanding on the issues with the NASA study, a plaintiffs expert, Michael Barr, prepared an 800-page report.
The report indicated there were coding issues that could affect electronic throttle controls. This was the first affirmative indication that electronic malfunction could be a cause of the sudden acceleration issues. The jury returned a verdict in favor of the plaintiffs; however, the night before the punitive damages portion of the trial, a confidential settlement was reached. There have been many other similar individual suits brought against Toyota with nearly all of them being settled. Moreover, Toyota has settled about 537 claims against them since 2014.
It seemed that with the recalls, lawsuits, and financial punishments this sudden acceleration issue might be behind us. However, that is not the case and sudden acceleration issues are still causing very dangerous circumstances for those driving the affected vehicles.
The Sudden Acceleration Problem Is Still An Issue
In the past couple years I have come across three separate instances involving Toyota’s suddenly accelerating resulting in very scary crashes. In all three instances the driver of the vehicle was charged with reckless driving, a class 1 misdemeanor in Virginia. Likewise in all three instances the vehicle did not stop until a building prevented it from moving forward any further. Unfortunately, the owners of these vehicles were unaware of the issues and recalls affecting their cars.
The first case involved a young driver in Hanover. Upon pulling out of his driveway, this young man put his vehicle into drive and it began to accelerate uncontrollably. He was able to steer the vehicle around a turn but ultimately lost control went through a ditch, fence, and came to a stop after running into a neighbors house. After doing some research I felt confidant the Toyota sudden acceleration problem was the issue here. Ultimately, the Court agreed and found the driver not guilty.
The second case involved an elderly lady who lived in a retirement community in Henrico County. She was driving her car in order to take the trash down to the dumpster. When she was pulling into the parking sport next to the dumpster the sudden acceleration kicked in. Her car then went over a parking barricade, over the curb, and would not stop despite her pushing the brake as hard as she could. Her Toyota ended up slamming into the building in behind the dumpster bringing the car to a stop.
Being familiar with the first case, as soon as she described the facts, I immediately inquired as to the vehicle she was driving. It turned out my suspicion was correct, she was driving a Toyota that was subject to one of these recalls. Upon presenting this information to the Court, she was likewise found not guilty.
Just last week, I had another similar case in Henrico. This one played out a little bit differently as I had been communicating with a friend of the defendant, and I was unable to get the full details and facts that lead to the accident. Upon arriving in court the officer indicated my client was backing out of his brothers driveway, went across the street, and hit a vehicle parked in front of the neighbors house. Despite all of that, my clients Camry continued to try to accelerate and pushed that vehicle into the neighbor’s house before it finally came to a stop. The vehicle hit the building with enough force to see damage on the inside of the house.
Upon learning the entirety of the facts, I immediately turned to the vehicle driven at the time and sure enough it was a 2009 Camry, a vehicle that was subject to a recall. After speaking with the prosecutor and officer more, it was agreed that the prosecutor would nolle prosequi the case and dismiss it.
We were extremely lucky that in all cases there were no injuries involved. These vehicles will take off and will not stop with the application of the brake pedal. In fact, they will keep trying to accelerate until something, in most cases a building, is able to stop the vehicle from continuing further.
When hearing the facts of these cases it is very easy to jump to the conclusion that the defendant mistakenly hit the gas rather than the brake pedal. Without knowing more it is rational and reasonable to make that assumption. Additionally, early on it seemed Toyota was taking this exact stance when it came to these issues. However, we now know that is simply not the case. These vehicles continue to create very dangerous situations for both the drivers and anyone else who happens to be near them at the time.
Take Action Now
If you or someone you know owns one of these vehicles please ensure you look up all relevant recalls and have the repairs done immediately. If you believe you have been in an accident that was due to sudden unanticipated acceleration please contact us to discuss the details.