“We now have proof that Toyota failed to live up to its legal obligations … Worse yet, they knowingly hid a dangerous defect for months from U.S. officials and did not take action to protect millions of drivers and their families. For those reasons, we are seeking the maximum penalty possible under current laws.” 1
With those stern words, the United States Department of Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood announced that the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) is seeking the maximum civil penalty of $16.375 million against Toyota Motor Corporation for failing to notify the auto safety agency of the dangerous “sticky pedal” defect for months, despite knowing of the potential risk to consumers. Toyota announced that it would pay the fine and not contest the penalty. 2
Under federal regulations, automakers, like Toyota, are required to inform the agency within five days of learning about a safety defect that exists in one of its products. However, a NHTSA investigation of internal Toyota documents revealed that the automaker knew of the sticky pedal problems since at least September 2009. 3
Large scale recalls such as the Toyota recall often create questions in the minds of consumers. Is my vehicle affected? What should I do? Is my vehicle safe? Such questions are understandable, particularly, where as here, the recalls involve numerous different models and several different safety issues.
There are currently three major Toyota recalls in effect. 4 One involves the sticky pedal situation where gas pedals can begin to stick in a partially depressed position as the pedals age. Another recall involves gas pedals that can stick on certain floor mats. And yet another recall involves braking problems in Toyota Prius hybrid cars.
The sticky pedal recall alone concerns about 2.3 million vehicles. The floor mat recall affects about 5.3 million Toyota vehicles. Many of the vehicles under recall for the sticky pedal problem are also affected by the floor mat recall. Both of these safety problems have been associated with sudden acceleration where a vehicle suddenly and unexpectedly accelerates – a situation that could lead to an accident.
The following vehicles are involved in the recent recalls 5 :
- 2005-2010 Avalon
- 2007-2010 Camry
- 2009-2010 Corolla
- 2008-2010 Highlander
- 2009-2010 Matrix
- 2004-2010 Prius
- 2009-2010 RAV4
- 2008-2010 Sequoia
- 2005-2010 Tacoma
- 2007-2010 Tundra
- 2009-2010 VENZA
To find out if your specific Toyota vehicle is involved in the recent recalls you can also enter the VIN (Vehicle Identification Number) for your vehicle on the Toyota Owners Web site (www.toyotaownersonline.com/sscinfo). If your vehicle is identified as one that is being recalled, you should promptly contact your local Toyota dealership to arrange for the necessary repairs. 6
If you or a loved one has suffered serious injury or death due to one of the recalled Toyota vehicles, you may want to speak with an attorney. The product liability attorneys at Allen and Allen have significant experience handling legal claims involving defective products and are willing to speak with you.
About the Author: Richmond, VA personal injury attorney Jason Konvicka has handled complex car accident and product liability cases during his career spanning over 15 years.
1 –See Department of Transportation press release, April 5, 2010 “Secretary LaHood Announces DOT is Seeking Maximum Civil Penalty from Toyota”, at http://www.dot.gov/affairs/2010/dot5910.htm.
2 -See “Toyota to pay $16.4 million fine, recall Lexus SUV”, April 19, 2010 at http://news.yahoo.com/s/nm/20100419/bs_nm/us_toyota_fine.
4 -Editor’s Note: Toyota has now announced another recall, involving potential for rollover by its SUVs. This recall is supposed to be fixed by changes to the electronic stabilization control software. See “Toyota to pay $16.4 million fine, recall Lexus SUV”, April 19, 2010 at http://news.yahoo.com/s/nm/20100419/bs_nm/us_toyota_fine.
5 -To search for vehicle recalls of a particular vehicle make, model and year, regardless of manufacturer, see http://www-odi.nhtsa.dot.gov/recalls/recallsearch.cfm.
6 -However, note that there is some controversy over whether the braking problems are in fact primarily a mechanical defect (floormats, etc.), which the Toyota repairs address, or are an electronic defect, which some repairs do not address. Secretary LaHood has also announced an investigation into the nature of the unintended acceleration problems as the exact cause of the problem is not clear. The National Highway Traffic & Safety Administration’s (NHTSA) review of the electronic throttle control systems in Toyotas is to be completed by late summer 2010. See http://www.nhtsa.gov/portal/site/nhtsa/template.MAXIMIZE/menuitem.f2217bee37fb302f6d7c121046108a0c/?javax.portlet.tpst=1e51531b2220b0f8ea14201046108a0c_ws_MX&javax.portlet.prp_1e51531b2220b0f8ea14201046108a0c_viewID=detail_view&itemID=ca32b7ec0ab97210VgnVCM1000002fd17898RCRD&pressReleaseYearSelect=2010
For a description of one mechanical Toyota repair, see http://www-odi.nhtsa.dot.gov/recalls/results.cfm?rcl_id=10V017000&searchtype=quicksearch&summary=true&refurl=rss.