Toyota, GM and Mazda Make New Headlines for Safety Recalls

chevy-cobalt.jpgToyota issues its second largest safety recall ever while GM CEO addresses Congress and Mazda reports a new web of problems

Toyota has more bad news for drivers. Just a few weeks ago, Toyota agreed to pay a record $1.2 billion criminal penalty to the federal government. The Japanese automaker, which has recalled over 9 million vehicles worldwide in recent years, recalled another 6.4 million vehicles on Wednesday for steering, airbag and other safety defects. This is the company’s second largest single recall announcement. Toyota states that it is not aware of any crashes or injuries involving these defects.

In March, Toyota agreed to pay the $1.2 billion criminal penalty to federal government for misleading consumers and the government about unintended acceleration in its cars and trucks. The Justice Department had charged Toyota with wire fraud, but agreed to defer the criminal charge for three years while the company submits to government monitoring.

This week’s recalls involve 27 Toyota models, including the RAV4 and Yaris. The largest recall involves 3.5 million vehicles which have defective spiral cables that can be damaged when the steering wheel is turned. Other defects involve a seat rail that can be pushed forward in a crash, as well as faulty steering column brackets, windshield wiper motors and engine starters.

GM ignition defects draw Congressional inquiry. Last week, General Motors CEO Mary Barra was questioned by Congress about faulty ignition switches in GM vehicles, and about her company’s slow response to protecting the public after learning about at least 13 deaths linked to the defect. GM has recalled over 2.5 million vehicles which may be equipped with the faulty ignition switch.

A week later, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) is waiting on more answers from General Motors. It reports the company has failed to respond to more than a third of its written questions. The company is being fined $7,000 each day for failing to fully respond, and the NHTSA is expected to hand the matter over to the Justice Department shortly.

Spiders and hoses and gas, oh my! Mazda also issued a recall this week, one involving an unusual, but familiar safety problem. For the second time in three years, Mazda has recalled 42,000 Mazda6 sedans. This recall involved vehicles from 2010, 2011 and 2012.

The problem is the yellow sac spider. The spiders are attracted to the smell of gasoline and can weave a web in the evaporative fuel hose, causing pressure to build up in the fuel tank. Too much pressure can cause fuel tank cracks, leaks and fires.

In 2011, Mazda had recalled 65,000 Mazda6s from 2009 and 2010 for this defect. The car manufacturer attempted to remedy the defect by installing a spring inside the vehicle’s fuel line, but recently reported nine cases in which this was not adequate. The company is not aware of any fires due to the defect, but will now notify car owners. The remedy requires checking of the evaporative canister vent line and software reprogramming.
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Will Toyota Criminal Penalty Improve Safety?

Toyota Toyota agreed last week to pay a record $1.2 billion criminal penalty for misleading consumers and the government about unintended acceleration in its vehicles. This safety defect and others have resulted in numerous injuries and deaths. Over 10 million Toyota vehicles have been recalled so far.

This is the largest criminal penalty ever imposed on a car manufacturer. As part of the agreement, the Justice Department charged Toyota with wire fraud but deferred the criminal charge for three years while the company submits to government monitoring.

We have been reading about Toyota’s safety defects for many years now, along with the more important violation of trust: the Japanese automaker repeatedly failed to warn the public about safety problems. CNN reported last week that the company “at one point boasted internally about saving $100 million in costs by avoiding a full safety recall.”

To date, Toyota has paid out more than $66 million in fines for not immediately reporting defects. Several of these fines have been record-breaking. In 2010, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration fined the company a record $16 million for its delayed response in notifying the government about defects. In 2012, the NHTSA fined the company an additional $17.4 million.

The company has faced numerous injury and wrongful death lawsuits. In addition to sticky pedals and unintended acceleration, unsecured floor mats and other equipment have caused safety hazards. Last October, an Oklahoma jury decided that defective electronics were to blame for a car accident which killed a woman and seriously injured another person. Toyota was ordered to pay $3 million in damages.

As for Toyota, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder told the Detroit Press: “Put simply, Toyota’s conduct was shameful. It showed a blatant disregard for systems and laws designed to look after the safety of consumers. By the company’s own admission it protected its brand ahead of its own consumers.”

Still, consumers have continued to buy Toyota. The company was the top-selling automaker in 2012 and 2013, selling 9.98 million vehicles in 2013.

Toyota to pay $1.2 billion in settlement with U.S. over recalls, CNN.
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Toyota Settles One of First Wrongful Death Cases

Toyota A month after being assessed a record $17.4 million fine, Toyota Motor Corp. has settled one of the first wrongful death lawsuits involving sudden and unintended acceleration by its vehicles.

The Japanese automaker confirmed last week it had reached an agreement with the family of Paul Van Alfen and his son’s fiancee, Charlene Jones Lloyd, for an undisclosed amount in the November 2010 accident in which they died, USA Today reported. The automaker said it has also settled another case filed under California’s lemon law by a retired Los Angeles police officer.

Van Alfen and Lloyd were killed in 2010 when the Toyota Camry they were traveling in on Interstate 80 in Utah suddenly accelerated. Van Alfen, the driver, attempted to stop the vehicle, but ran through a stop sign and into a wall. His other passengers, his wife and his son, were injured. The Utah Highway Patrol investigated and determined the car accident was the result of a sticking gas pedal.

Other Injury Lawsuits. The settlement comes as a group of lawsuits consolidated in U.S. District Court in Santa Ana, California moves forward. Prior to the consolidation, Toyota had also reached a $10 million settlement in a case involving an auto accident which killed a California police officer and his family.

The officer and his family were killed near San Diego in 2009 when their Lexus accelerated above 120 mph, struck an SUV, rolled off an embankment and burst into flames. The car accident was blamed on a improperly sized floor mat which was trapped in the accelerator.

More Than $1 Billion Settlement. In December 2012, Toyota agreed to a settlement worth more than $1 billion to resolve hundreds of lawsuits claiming economic losses by car owners affected by its recalls. In recent years, the car manufacturer has recalled more than 14 million vehicles due to acceleration problems and brake defects.

$17.4 Million Fine. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration issued Toyota a $17.4 million fine for safety defects in December 2012, the largest ever imposed. In 2010, the company paid a total of $48.8 in a series of three fines.

Toyota settles first wrongful death lawsuit, USA Today.

Toyota tackles acceleration lawsuits; questions remain, USA Today.

Toyota reaches $1 billion settlement in acceleration cases, USA Today.
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Boston Personal Injury Attorneys Urge Residents to Seek Loaner Lexus SUVs As Toyota Conducts Retesting Following Safety Warning

As Toyota suspends sales of the 2010 Lexus GX 460 amid motor vehicle safety questions, concerned drivers can find relief by requesting a loaner sports utility vehicle.

Toyota – already forced recently to recall 2.3 million vehicles over motor vehicle safety defects – halted sales this week after Consumer Reports issued a “Don’t Buy: Safety Risk,” warning because tests revealed handling problems with the electronic stability control. The magazine is concerned about potential motor vehicle accidents and motor vehicle rollovers. No motor vehicle accidents involving personal injuries or deaths have been reported, but the magazine’s “don’t buy” warning is its first in nearly a decade for a motor vehicle.

“Drivers are facing an extraordinary number of recalls, mostly from Toyota,” said Boston personal injury attorney David W. White of Breakstone, White & Gluck. “Massachusetts residents should immediately seek repairs or loaner vehicles to protect themselves, their families, and other drivers.”

Lexus will provide a loaner vehicle for any customer who has bought a 2010 Lexus GX 460 since the vehicle’s December release. Customers can call Lexus at 800-255-3987. Lexus has sold about 5,000 vehicles since the Lexus GX 460 was released.

Toyota has suspended sales and production of the Lexus 460 as it tests all its Lexus and Toyota SUVs following the Consumer Reports warning. The carmaker said its engineers previously found no issues with motor vehicle safety, but are now trying to duplicate Consumer Reports’ testing to correct the product safety rating.

Toyota recalled 2.3 million vehicles in January for a so-called “sticky pedal defect.” The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) is now seeking the maximum civil penalty of $16.375 million against Toyota for failing to notify the government agency for at least four months about the product safety defect. Government officials say company officials knew about the potential risk to consumers.

The penalty being sought against Toyota would be the largest civil penalty ever assessed against an auto manufacturer by NHTSA.

For assistance with a product liability case or case involving a wrongful death or personal injury, contact the experienced attorneys at the Boston firm of Breakstone, White and Gluck. The lawyers have over three decades of experience with motor vehicle accident lawsuits and truck accident lawsuits. To consult with a professional and experienced attorney, call 800 379 1244.

Toyota’s Headaches Continue–Massachusetts Prius Owners Should Be Aware of Defective Brakes

Toyota faced another round of bad news this week with the announcement today of a probe by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) into braking problems in the popular Prius hybrid model. NHTSA has received at least 124 complaints about momentary braking problems in the defective vehicles. As least four car crashes have been reported. The problems are apparently associated with speed bumps, potholes, and icy roads–three things Massachusetts drivers see plenty of. The investigation concerns the 2010 Prius model year.

The Prius investigation is the third in a string of product defect recalls which are tarnishing Toyota’s reputation for safety and reliability. On top of that, it seems that Toyota has been less than forthright about the problems in its cars. According to CNN (February 4, 1010), “Toyota has known about brake problems in its popular Prius cars for some time, going so far as to fix it in new production vehicles, but has kept Prius drivers in the dark about the problem until the Japanese government called for an investigation.”  And the sticking gas pedal was first blamed on floor mats, and then later extended to the mechanics of the pedal itself. The Federal government has now demanded that Toyota demonstrate that the problem isn’t more serious, and that it does not include other parts of the throttle control systems. Defects relating to the gas pedals have been linked to several wrongful deaths.

U.S. Transportation Secretary Roy LaHood set off a brief panic on February 3rd when he said owners of the defective Toyotas should “stop driving them.”  He later clarified his statement, saying instead that owners should have them repaired as quickly as possible.

NHTSA itself has been criticized for its slow response to consumer complaints about Toyota acceleration problems, some of which date back to 2003. According to Joan Claybrook, a former head of NHTSA, several investigations were opened, then closed based upon information provided by Toyota. According to NPR, she said, “I think as a result, some people have been killed and injured that wouldn’t have otherwise.” (NPR, Feb 4, 2010.)

Consumer Alert

This week Toyota finally began shipping replacement parts to dealers for the gas pedal recall. Checks with some dealers in Massachusetts revealed that free rental vehicles are available. If the dealer does not have the part, it should still provide you with a free car should you choose to leave it at the dealer for repair. Many Massachusetts consumers are rightfully fearful that their car could be involved in a motor vehicle accident.

The same courtesy should apply to the defective Prius models, and consumers should feel free to demand that the dealer provide them with a safe, alternative vehicle until their cars are fixed.

Affected Vehicles 

Models affected by the recall include:

  • 2009-2010 RAV4


  • 2009-2010 Corolla


  • 2007-2010 Camry


  • 2009-2010 Matrix


  • 2005-2010 Avalon


  • 2010 Highlander


  • 2007-2010 Tundra


  • 2008-2010 Sequoia

Please see our earlier blog on Toyota recalls for additional safety information.

More Information

Much additional information on the Toyota recall is available from the NHTSA website,

Answers to Questions About Toyota Repair Plans, NY Times, Feb 1, 2010

US Launches Probe of Prius Brakes, Reuters, Feb 4, 2010
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