Plaintiffs in the ongoing 'unintended acceleration' lawsuits against Toyota in the US contend that the company re-purchased allegedly defective cars from customers for internal purposes. It's also claimed that the company failed to alert US Government regulators to the existence of the alleged problem(s), and that Toyota required customers to agree to confidentiality contracts in relation to the matter. The allegations are contained in documents filed on behalf of the plaintiffs in the US District Court last Wednesday.
In a statement to the media the plaintiffs' lawyer Steve Berman said: "The deeper we dig into the facts that surround Toyota, the more damning the evidence that Toyota was aware of the issue but failed to act responsibly. The revelation that they bought up the cars in question and prevented the owners from talking about their experience is curious at best, nefarious at worst."
Toyota flatly denies the allegations. The company argued on Monday in court that the lawsuit should be dismissed because the plaintiffs had failed to identify any defect with the vehicles' electronic throttle control system. Toyota lawyer Cari Dawson said: "More than a year after filing their first complaint, plaintiffs have not identified a defect and are grasping at straws to make their case ... this new complaint offers no more support for their positions and contains a number of inaccuracies and mis-charaterisations."
Toyota says that extensive internal testing by Toyota as well as third-party technical investigations have failed to identify a defect in the throttle control system. "Toyota looks forward to the time when plaintiffs will finally be compelled to specify exactly what is defective in Toyota's electronic throttle control system," Ms Dawson added.
According to a report by the Associated Press, Toyota has not responded to claims it required owners to enter into confidentiality agreements. It has previously attributed a number of potential factors to possible unintentional acceleration: driver error, floor mats and sticky pedal assemblies among them. More than 10 million vehicles have been recalled, and US Government officials say 3000 sudden acceleration complaints and a possible link to 93 deaths over the past decade have been identified.
Toyota has settled some of the related lawsuits already, with those settlement details remaining undisclosed. Some ongoing cases seek compensation for death or injury, while others claim economic loss from the alleged sudden decline in resale values that flowed from the news of the company's recall woes. Ongoing Federal cases have been consolidated and are scheduled to proceed in Southern California on November 9.
The US National Academy of Sciences is conducting a wide-ranging independent review of unintended acceleration events more broadly in the automotive industry, but the findings from that investigation won't be released until after August next year.
The case continues.