Toyota Recalls Lead to Nationwide Litigation

On September 29, 2009, NHTSA issued a Consumer Alert warning owners of Toyota and Lexus vehicles about "conditions that could cause the accelerator to get stuck open." As an interim measure, NHTSA "strongly encouraged" owners of specific models to take out the removable driver's side floor mats and not to replace them any other type of mat. NHTSA warned consumers "a stuck accelerator may result in very high vehicle speeds and a crash, which could cause serious injury or death." On the same day, Toyota issued a voluntary recall of 3.8 million vehicles to address problems caused when removable floor mats push the accelerator pedal to the floor.

Long before Toyota told U.S. regulators about sticking accelerator pedals, the Japanese automaker warned its distributors throughout Europe about similar problems, according to media reports. Concerns about sticking gas pedals and complaints from Toyota owners in the U.S. were rising at the end of 2009. The U.S government has now assessed a record $16.4 million fine on Toyota for failing to alert federal agencies to the safety problems quickly enough.

In November and December, 2009, Toyota engineers examined pedals from the Corollas and were able to replicate the sticking pedal problem in two of the three cases. The engineers “concluded that the phenomenon experienced in the United States was essentially the same as the phenomenon experienced in Europe,” according to documents. In mid-January, 2010, Toyota held internal meetings “to discuss status of production changes and to prepare for meetings with NHTSA” on Jan. 19, according to the timeline. Two days later, Toyota announced it would recall 2.3 million vehicles to address the sticking pedals.

On Sept. 29, 2009, the same day Toyota issued the repair procedures in Europe, the company told NHTSA of its decision to recall several Toyota and Lexus vehicle models “to address the risk of accelerator pedal entrapment by all-weather floor mats.”

Toyota has recalled more than 6 million vehicles in the U.S. and a total of more than 8 million worldwide because of acceleration problems in multiple models and braking issues in the Prius hybrid. The Japanese automaker has been named in dozens of potential class-action lawsuits over falling vehicle values, and many personal injury and wrongful death cases in federal and state courts.

If you or a family member have suffered significant personal injuries or wrongful death as the result of a defective automobile or other consumer product, contact the law office of Swartz & Swartz, P.C., one of the most successful product liability firms in the country. Call (617) 742-1900 in the Boston area, or for clients in greater Massachusetts, New England, or other states across the U.S., call toll-free at 1-800-545-3732.

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