$1.6 Billion Toyota Sudden Acceleration Class Action Settlement Tried to Blame Drivers
Toyota’s decision to settle multiple claims that its automobiles could suddenly accelerate, causing numerous injuries and fatalities, left some legal observers dissatisfied and demanding changes to avoid the appearance that the automaker was not at fault.
As part of the $1.6 billion settlement Toyota initially reached with members of the class action lawsuit, more than $100 million in unclaimed funds was going to help a research and education fund focused on driver error.
Clarence Ditlow of The Center for Auto Safety objected to this provision, saying it would strengthen Toyota’s original contention that drivers were to blame for the accidents, not the cars’ electronic control systems.
“The lawsuit relates to defective electronic control systems and Toyota’s cover up of the defects by blaming driver error,” Ditlow told the Corporate Crime Reporter. “To provide funding for driver education legitimizes Toyota’s cover up. Driver education programs have been dismal flops in improving vehicle safety starting with the $100 million seat belt use campaigns that had no success until mandatory use laws were passed. Research to find and correct defects in electronic throttle control systems works because the driver does not have to be trained for the emergency unintended acceleration event because it doesn’t occur.”
Brian Wolfman of the Georgetown University Law Center agreed with Ditlow.
“The concern, and I think a valid one from Clarence’s point of view, was that funding of driver education programs would suggest that the problem in these Toyota vehicles was driver error and that learning some sort of driving techniques would somehow abate or diminish the problem with unintended acceleration. The concern was that this would be an abuse of the class action process. It would be an attempt to vindicate Toyota’s position in this litigation that the problem was driver error and not a defect in the vehicle in the electronic throttling system which causes unintended acceleration,” Wolfman told the Corporate Crime Reporter.
Objections raised by Ditlow and other parties resulted in the $100 million in unclaimed funds being redirected to the states.
This change, however, also didn’t sit well with Ditlow, who wanted the money to fund research into the causes of sudden acceleration.
So, he convinced attorneys representing the plaintiffs to allocate $1.5 million of the settlement for auto safety research. The money was divided evenly between the Automotive Safety Research Institute and the Center for Advanced Life Cycle Engineering at the University of Maryland.
To Learn More:
Red Flags Raised Over Toyota Defects Class Action Settlement (Corporate Crime Reporter)
Final Order Approving Class Action Settlement (U.S. District Court, Central California) (pdf)
Toyota Acceleration Doubts May Give Hope to Man Imprisoned for Killing 3 in Car Crash (by Noel Brinkerhoff, AllGov)
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