Lawyers handling thousands of cases of crashes linked to Toyota Sudden Unintended Acceleration say recent result of NASA study will not hold up when more extensive tests are finished
MONTGOMERY, ALA. (February 9, 2011) – On Feb. 8, the U.S. Department of Transportation released results of a 10-month study on the suspected cause of Sudden Unintended Acceleration that affected thousands of Toyota vehicles and prompted the recall of more than 8 million various makes and models beginning in late 2009. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) contracted a group of NASA engineers to look into the issue of sudden unintended acceleration in nine Toyota vehicles. This study could not prove that Toyota electronic throttle systems caused unintended acceleration in the vehicles they studied. The NASA engineers cautioned: “Because proof that the ETCSi (electronic throttle) caused the reported UAs was not found does not mean it could not occur.” Despite this finding, Secretary of Transportation, Ray La Hood, told reporters on Tuesday: “There is no electronic-based cause for unintended high-speed acceleration in Toyotas.” But lawyers and safety groups investigating claims of accidents, injuries and deaths caused by SUA say the study is incomplete and in no way exonerates Toyota or involvement of its electronic throttle system. The NASA study will not stand up when more exhaustive research is finalized, according to a number of safety groups.
“NASA’s report is not exhaustive, nor the final word on the issue of Sudden Unintended Acceleration in Toyota vehicles,” says Beasley Allen lawyer W. Daniel “Dee” Miles, III, head of the firm’s Consumer Fraud section, who is serving on the Liaison Committee for personal injury / wrongful death cases in the Toyota Multi-District Litigation (MDL). “There is ongoing, more extensive testing on the suspect Toyota models being conducted by the MDL lawyers and experts, as well as independent investigators. NHTSA’s work is certainly helpful to all, but they are limited in their resources and their testing appears to have been limited as a result.”
Beasley Allen attorney Graham Esdale was working on Toyota SUA cases long before the first recalls were announced by the manufacturer. “We firmly believe that more testing will prove that some Toyota vehicles have experienced Electronic Throttle Control System problems that led to death in some cases and injury in others. The book is still open,” he says. Esdale also noted that a primary defect in the Toyota vehicles is the lack of a brake over-ride system. “Had these vehicles incorporated this safety feature, whether electronic, a sticky pedal or floor mat interference, these accidents would not have happened,” said Esdale. NHTSA noted in the report that it may require a brake override system as mandatory on all cars.
The notion that SUA is tied to the automobile electrical system has already been supported by independent research, including a study conducted by Safety Research & Strategies, Inc. (SRS). Sean Kane, president of SRS, testified before Congress in February 2010 to present findings that proved incidences of SUA even after problems such as “sticky accelerator pedals” and “improperly fitted floor mats” were corrected.
In 2010 the NHTSA has levied $48.8 million in civil penalties against Toyota for its failure to comply with federal law in notifying the government about potential problems that eventually led to the massive recalls.