Automobile safety regulations are important to all of us. Safely designed and constructed automobiles allow us to operate vehicles on the roads and highways in a safe manner, absent any defects. In the unfortunate case a defect is present, the manufacture must be held accountable, especially when people are injured or killed. Fortunately our court systems holds companies responsible for such defects, and issues heavy criminal penalties when companies put the utility of the automobile ahead of people’s safety by evading the safety rules created to protect us all.
Recently, the Department of Justice and Toyota reached a $1.2 billion settlement after a four-year investigation focused on whether Toyota promptly reported the problems related to unintended acceleration, as reported by Bloomberg Businessweek. Federal officials say Toyota intentionally concealed the problems to protect its corporate image after a series of fatalities — fatalities that could have been prevented. The settlement amounts to one-third of the company’s 2013 profits and is the largest criminal penalty imposed on a car company in U.S. history.
For many years, Toyota lied and misled Congress and the public about the status of the gas pedal design. Drivers complained that the car would uncontrollably speed up resulting in numerous fatal crashes. Initially the company blamed the fatalities on human error, saying drivers accidentally hit the gas pedal instead of the brake.
The investigation was sparked when a family of four was killed in high-speed crash. The Lexus was observed speeding out of control, over 125 miles per hour. All four occupants were killed due to the unintended acceleration of the car.
Over 8.1 million vehicles were eventually recalled. The Washington Post reports that “even after issuing recalls to address problematic floor mats that in some cases pinned down accelerators, the company hid a flawed gas pedal design that it knew did the same thing.” In the settlement, Toyota admitted making deceptive statements and intentionally hiding the safety problem. Toyota admitted to not recalling vehicles known to have safety issues. Additionally, with the hopes of eliminating a paper trail the company communicated orally, rather than in writing, so that federal officials would not learn of the problem nor the company’s plans to change the pedal design. Furthermore, once company executives decided to disclose the gas pedal defect to federal regulators, the company submitted false timelines “making it appear as if the company had acted quickly to address the sticky-pedal issue.”
Up to this point, automakers were faced with insignificant fines and no criminal penalties under the Vehicle Safety Act. The Toyota settlement is a landmark case that sets the precedent for future automobile company audits for lack of disclosing a safety issue. Toyota was slapped with a $35 million maximum fine by the federal government. For the next four years, the company will be monitored by an independent agency to assure federal safety practices and compliance. If the company fails to live up to the agreement, then the company will face criminal charges.
It is important to note that the settlement with the federal government does not bar Toyota from civil liability. Toyota faces potential civil lawsuits stemming from the auto company’s negligence. As the Washington Post reports, in addition to the criminal fines, Toyota faces nearly 400 wrongful-death and personal injury lawsuits. Thus far, Toyota has settled at least seven lawsuits in the past few months.
If you have been affected or injured by Toyota’s willful negligence, you have the right to confront the company through the legal system. The experienced personal injury attorneys at Solnick & Associates pride themselves on protecting the rights of individuals who have been injured by the negligence of large companies. Our attorneys will zealously fight your case and hold the companies accountable for the irresponsible actions. Contact us today for a consultation.