Over the past twelve months, Toyota has recalled over 15 of its Toyota and Lexus models for problems with misshapen floor mats, sticking accelerator pedals, faulty engine control modules (ECMs), and malfunctioning braking systems. The recalls were prompted by hundreds of incidents involving the recalled vehicles nationwide, many of which resulted in serious injury and death. To date, there have been 52 deaths linked to runaway Toyota and Lexus vehicles and hundreds more injuries. In the wake of these recent product recalls, Toyota is facing a flood of product liability lawsuits filed by consumers who have been injured or whose loved ones have been killed as a result of the defects.
There is evidence that Toyota knew about the defects years before the company took any action to recall the vehicles. A recent CNN article suggests that Toyota warned dealers of the accelerator issues back in 2002 – a full seven years before the first recall was issued. The 2002 document is a technical service bulletin issued to all dealers in August 2002 and cites the throttle issue as an “electronic” defect, not a floor mat issue. Lawsuits filed in several states accuse Toyota of lying to consumers about the cause of the problem, blaming floor mats, defective accelerator pedals, and human error, instead of addressing the root cause of the problem – electronics. The lawsuits claim that the throttle control system, also called the ETCS-i, should have included a safety feature that would force the engine into idle mode in the event of unintended acceleration. Toyota allegedly decided to sell the vehicles without the feature in 2001. The lawsuits claim that Toyota knowingly and unnecessarily placed consumers at risk of injury and death.
Critics have claimed that Toyota is giving consumers false assurances that the proposed fixes will correct the defects, claiming that the repairs do not address the real source of the problems. A recent class action suit claims that Toyota issued a floor mat recall and accelerator pedal recall with full knowledge that the defect was actually an issue with the electronics. In fact, many Toyota owners who have taken their vehicles to local dealerships for repairs are still reporting acceleration issues. Thus, the recall may not even address the continuing safety issues with Toyota and Lexus vehicles.