Toyota sales have not diminished in Colorado or worldwide despite the car manufacturer’s legal problems over safety flaws. The car maker spent over $1 billion in settlements to victims of injury and fatal accidents and tens of millions of dollars more in fines to the U.S. government.
Toyota has managed to avoid injury and wrongful death jury trials in the company’s effort to protect a reputation as the biggest automaker in the world. In the meantime, the company reported a 27 percent increase in global sales.
Unexpected Toyota vehicle acceleration reports began to trickle in four years ago. The car maker eventually recalled 14 million vehicles. Government officials fined the company over $17 million for taking too long to notify federal regulators and fix defects with gas pedals and floor mats.
Plaintiffs’ personal injury lawyers question Toyota’s assertion that acceleration problems are strictly tied to mats and pedals. Cases suggest that the car company’s electronic throttle control system is faulty. Settlements have prevented the claim from being proven before a jury.
The most recent settlement concerned the 2010 deaths of two people. Accident investigators concluded that the vehicle’s accelerator pedal stuck before the victims’ Toyota crashed into a wall. The wrongful death case was settled out of court — one of hundreds of claims naming Toyota as a defendant.
Legal observers say Toyota is doing everything possible to maintain respectability. The company may be keeping personal injury and wrongful death cases from going to trial so clear evidence of wrongdoing never becomes public knowledge. The car maker’s defective gas pedal and floor mat claims could be shaky enough to prevent the company from trying to defend its position.
Liability settlements often occur when defendants realize a publicized jury trial could be more costly. For Toyota, the monetary costs might be incidental compared to the customer backlash the company could face if its products are found to be dangerous.
Source: usatoday.com, “Toyota tackles acceleration lawsuits; questions remain,” Greg Risling, Jan. 21, 2013