Auto Maker Agrees to $1.2B Settlement to End Federal Probe of Defective Vehicle Accelerators

An auto manufacturer, beset by multiple claims and investigations regarding a defect in its vehicles that caused them to accelerate uncontrollably, has settled with the federal government to end a criminal investigation into its practices, FOX 5 San Diego reported. The investigation, initially triggered by a multiple-fatality accident in Southern California, pursued the company for allegedly misleading customers about its vehicles’ safety in the wake of that crash.

Off-duty California highway Patrol Officer Mark Saylor picked a “loaner” Lexus ES 350 sedan from a San Diego County auto dealership in August 2009. Shortly after leaving the dealership, the car’s accelerator pedal became pinned down, trapped beneath an improperly installed floor mat. The Lexus raced to speeds of more than 120 mph before striking another car, crashing through a fence and going over an embankment, when it ultimately burst into flames when it landed in the San Diego River basin. The wreck killed the officer and three members of his family.

Toyota Motor Corp. settled the Saylor family’s lawsuit regarding the defective Lexus for $10 million. The auto manufacturer also, one month after the Saylor crash, recalled 3.8 million vehicles with potential accelerator issues. The U.S. government, however, concluded that this response was inadequate and the FBI’s New York office began pursuing the company in early 2010.

As part of the settlement, the company admitted making deceptive statements to consumers and to the federal government about the nature of the problems with the accelerator. Specifically, the DOJ accused Toyota of engaging in deception by claiming that the company’s original limited recall fully addressed the problem, when the company actually knew the issue was much larger. “Rather than promptly disclosing and correcting safety issues about which they were aware, Toyota made misleading public statements to consumers and gave inaccurate facts to members of Congress.”

The company still faces other claims from the alleged victims of its defective vehicles. The auto maker successfully defended a wrongful death action launched by the family of a Los Angeles County woman whose 2006 Toyota Camry suddenly accelerated to nearly 100 mph before striking a telephone pole. The jury in that case concluded that the car’s accelerator was not to blame, but an Oklahoma jury reached the opposite conclusion in a Toyota sudden acceleration in that state, issuing a $3 million award. The company later settled a third wrongful death case in Utah, according to an NPR report. Earlier this year, the company began entering settlement negotiations with numerous other victims and victims’ families who sued the company for wrongful death or personal injury claims.

Purchasers of products, especially potentially dangerous items like vehicles, are entitled to expect that the item’s maker has taken all necessary steps to ensure that the product it has provided to the public is safe and non-defective. If you’ve been injured as a result of a defective product, you should act promptly to secure knowledgeable California legal counsel to assist you with your case. Talk to the Oakland personal injury attorneys at the Law Offices of Stephen M. Fuerch. Our injury attorneys can help you analyze your situation and pursue the best path to achieve your goals and obtain any financial recovery you may be owed. Contact us through our website or call our office at (925) 463-2575 to schedule your confidential initial consultation today.

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