The National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA) is now looking into a driver’s claim of sudden unintended acceleration at low speeds in Toyota Motor Corp. vehicles. The driver petitioned the agency for a defect investigation. NHTSA’s Office of Defects Investigation (ODI) is looking into the request by the unnamed petitioner, who claims his 2009 Lexus ES350 accelerated suddenly and crashed while his wife was trying to park the car in February 2015. After analyzing the petition, NHTSA will decide whether or not to investigate. Up to 42,833 ES350s would be affected if a defect is found, according to NHTSA.
The petitioner pointed to two other complaints involving a 2009 Camry and 2010 Corolla as showing a “troubling similarity” in event data recorders indicating acceleration issues at low speeds. He asked the agency to “acquire ALL the data on low-speed sudden acceleration that Toyota currently has and constitute a panel to study this problem.” The petition is not the first to call for an investigation of unintentional acceleration at low speeds in Toyota vehicles.
In May, NHTSA turned down a similar request by petitioner Robert Ruginis, saying it had not been able to replicate a surge at low speed in his 2010 Toyota Corolla. In September 2014, Ruginis asked the agency to look into 2006-10 Corollas after his wife crashed into a parked vehicle. Ruginis claimed that an event data recorder readout showed his Corolla had accelerated after his wife applied the brake. Ruginis had claimed NHTSA never investigated low-speed sudden unintended acceleration, but the agency replied in its denial of the petition that it had been working on the issue for more than a decade.
NHTSA says it conducted three defect investigations from 2003 to 2009 and looked into allegations in five defect investigation requests on sudden unintended acceleration. The agency apparently believed the cause of some of the incidents was a sticky gas pedal or floor mat that could trap the pedal in a depressed position. I heard that theory before in an Oklahoma City courtroom and it gives me some concern. Surely, it couldn’t be a computer problem that is causing the sudden accelerations like we found to be the problem in the Bookout case.
In 2010, NHTSA teamed up with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) to further investigate low-speed acceleration incidents. The two agencies released a report in 2011 that found no defect in Toyota’s electronic throttle control system and attributed the incidents to driver error. But Toyota issued recalls of millions of cars and trucks in 2009 and 2010 after reports that several vehicles had experienced unintended acceleration. Our firm was heavily involved in the litigation that exposed Toyota’s wrongful conduct and deliberate cover-up of a known defect in its electronic throttle control system.
After the verdict in the Bookout case, things began to fall in place. In July 2013, Toyota received final approval for the $1.1 billion settlement with a proposed class of 23 million U.S. Toyota drivers, alleging they had suffered economic loss over the acceleration issue. In March 2014, a New York federal judge accepted Toyota’s $1.2 billion deferred prosecution agreement with the U.S. Department of Justice. That was because the automaker had hidden known defects that caused vehicles to accelerate suddenly. The court said the case “demonstrates that corporate fraud can kill.” The Bookout trial in Oklahoma City handled by our firm was the one single event that brought about all of the above. Hopefully, Toyota will change its position in the current sudden acceleration matter and do the right thing. Our experience with this automaker revealed that it is a master of cover up and deceit.