Beasley Allen attorney Graham Esdale has been actively investigating claims of sudden unintended acceleration (SUA) involving Toyota vehicles on behalf of clients for more than two years. He has long alleged the auto manufacturer’s problems with SUA are linked to vehicle electrical systems, not to floor mats or sticky accelerator pedals as Toyota has claimed. Beasley Allen helped to sponsor an independent study by Safety Research & Strategies, Inc., released Feb. 5, 2010, which provides evidence linking SUA problems to the vehicles’ electrical system.

Graham Esdale and Schwarz Family Beasley Allen takes part in Toyota hearings on Capitol Hill
Graham Esdale and Schwarz Family

At the end of February, Esdale traveled to Washington, DC, with three adult children of the firm’s deceased client Barbara Schwarz (read the complaint). Ms. Schwarz was killed in an auto crash when the 2005 Toyota Camry in which she was a passenger sped out of control as a result of sudden unintended acceleration. Esdale and Mrs. Schwarz’s daughters attended meetings of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce examining Toyota and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), and what they might have known about safety concerns involving Toyota and Lexus vehicles.

Ms. Schwarz’s daughters, Margie Louise Meibergen, Sharon L. Brandt and Julie Brandt Mayfield, spoke with as many people as possible about their mother’s death, hoping to bring more attention to the fact that Toyota has yet to recall the 2002-2006 Toyota Camrys, which studies have shown may be more susceptible to sudden unintended acceleration. The group appeared on the CBS Early Show, MSNBC, CNN and Fox News.

Toyota initially began recalling vehicles in October 2009, reporting that defective or improperly installed floor mats might be able to entrap the accelerator pedal, causing sudden unintended acceleration. In January, they recalled additional vehicles, reporting a possible problem with the accelerator pedal, which Toyota said might become “sticky over time.” The manufacturer continued to deny any problems with its vehicles’ electrical systems.

However, documents uncovered during the congressional hearings, and testimony of expert witnesses, provided evidence of a link between sudden unintended acceleration and the electrical system. In the face of mounting evidence, Toyota officials admitted the “possibility” of a problem with the electrical system, and NHTSA officials agreed that these concerns warrant further investigation. ABC News correspondent, Brian Ross, produced a video with Dave Gilbert of Southern Illinois University demonstrating how an electrical short could cause sudden unintended acceleration.

Among the more than 75,000 pages of information Toyota turned over to the congressional committee was a chilling internal Toyota memo that clearly valued dollars over human life. The memo, which circulated in Toyota’s upper echelon last summer, classified efforts to mitigate or avert safety recalls and federal regulations as “wins” for the company’s bottom line.

Following the release of these documents, Henry A. Waxman, Chairman of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce; and Bart Stupak, Chairman of the House Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations, sent a letter to James E. Lentz, President and COO of Toyota Motor Sales, U.S.A., Inc., stating their belief that Toyota “resisted the possibility that electronic defects could cause safety concerns” and that the company made “misleading public statements concerning the adequacy of recent recalls…”

Investigations continued in Washington this week as Toyota and NHTSA officials appeared before the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation.

Additional links:

Toyota interview with Graham – WSFA Montgomery (VIDEO)
CBS interview with Graham and the daughters of Barbara Schwarz – CBS Early Show (VIDEO)
Clarksville Death Linked To Toyota Recall – WSMV Nashville (VIDEO)

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