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Congressional Investigators Question NHTSA’s Vigilance and Toyota’s Fix

Here’s a wrap-up on Toyota stories from yesterday:

The CBS Evening News (2/8, story 4, 2:00, Hatton) reported, “On Wednesday, congressional hearings will look into when the company and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration knew something was wrong with Toyota’s vehicles. State Farm Insurance alerted the government as far back as 2007 about sticking gas pedals that could cause sudden dangerous acceleration.”

In a front-page story, the Washington Post (2/9, A1, Whoriskey) reports that State Farm alerted the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration “on numerous occasions starting in 2007 about a rise in reports of unexpected acceleration in Toyotas,” which “could add to criticism that the agency missed or overlooked signs of trouble.”

Politico (2/8, Sherman) reported, “Wednesday’s hearing, which will feature a top Toyota official and Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, will likely be one of the least partisan on Capitol Hill in this very charged Congress. It will dive into accelerator problems in Toyota vehicles – a problem that has resulted in the recall of roughly 7 million vehicles. Aides on both sides of the aisle have signaled that they are aiming to uncover some sort of regulatory lapse or corporate malfeasance on behalf of Toyota, not take partisan shots at each other.”

The Wall Street Journal (2/9, King) reports that a congressional hearing on Wednesday will feature officials from Toyota and the Department of Transportation’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Meanwhile, investigators for the panel question if the two correctly identified the causes of the sudden acceleration problems that prompted the automaker’s recalls and assert that Toyota’s current solutions fail to fix the problems.

Legislators investigating recall have ties to Toyota. The AP (2/9, Theimer) reports, “Some members of Congress have been such cheerleaders for Toyota that the public may wonder how they can act objectively as government watchdogs for auto safety and oversight,” with congressmen on the committees investigating the carmaker’s recall representing “states where Toyota has factories and the coveted well-paying manufacturing jobs they bring. The lead Senate’s investigator, “Jay Rockefeller, credits himself with lobbying Toyota to build a factory in his state.” Similarly, Rep. Jane Harman, who is on a House investigating panel, “represents the district of Toyota’s U.S. headquarters and has financial ties to the company.”

Toyota announces Prius recall. The New York Times (2/9, B5, Tabuchi, Bunkley) reports this morning that Toyota has announced that it will recall 436,000 Priuses and other hybrid models “because of a glitch in the braking system, a move that adds to the growing crisis at the Japanese automaker. About 223,000 of the cars recalled are in Japan, according to Toyota’s filing with the Transport Ministry.” The Times notes that Toyota has also “halted shipments of its Lexus HS250h and Sai hybrids from a Japanese factory because of a similar brake glitch forcing the Prius recall.”

NBC Nightly News (2/8, story 5, 0:30, Williams) reported, “Toyota is reportedly set to recall 300,000 of its superstar Prius hybrids because of problems with the brakes. … The fix will reportedly be a computer software update.”

The CBS Evening News (2/8, story 4, 2:00, Hatton) reported, “The company is still wrestling with how to fix brake problems on its Prius model and repair the damage to its corporate reputation.” Hatton continued, “Toyota reportedly is considering recalling the 2010 Prius because dozens of drivers have complained that the brakes seem to fail momentarily in bad weather or on bumpy roads. CBS News has learned the company is now inspecting all of its gas/electric hybrid models for the same problem.”

USA Today (2/9, Healey) reports that Toyota “will soon disclose details of its global plans for a fix.” Meanwhile, US safety officials say “they have no word from Toyota about a recall here.” The paper asserts that this recall “could hurt Toyota’s reputation even more than two other, bigger recalls.”

Toyota head apologizes, says company working to address mistakes. In an op-ed in the Washington Post (2/9), Akio Toyoda, president of Toyota Motor Co., apologizes for not meeting the high standards they set for themselves and that other expect. In response to the recalls, Toyota has begun “a top-to-bottom review of our global operations to ensure that problems of this magnitude do not happen again.”

Honda’s CFO: Toyota recall hurts entire auto industry. In an interview with the Wall Street Journal (2/9, Sanchanta), Honda Motor Co.’s Chief Financial Officer Yoichi Hojo cautioned that Toyota’s recall may have a domino effect on the entire auto industry, hurting consumers’ faith in quality and safety.

Toyota lawsuits said to face obstacles. The National Law Journal (2/8, Bronstad) reports, “A contingent of small firms with expertise in class actions and products liability litigation are behind a legal onslaught against Toyota Motor Sales USA Inc. following reports of sudden acceleration in many of its most popular vehicle models.” But “despite the rising litigation, the consumer claims face a number of obstacles, according to some law professors and defense attorneys. Consumers will have to prove actual economic damages and assert individual claims that are consistent enough to merit class certification by federal courts — both feats that were difficult for plaintiffs’ firms in earlier consumer class actions alleging economic harm due to a defective product.”

The South Florida Business Journal (2/8, Brinkmann) reported, “Fort Lauderdale resident Humberto Rivas-Vigil is among the first plaintiffs in the nation to file a lawsuit seeking class action status against Toyota over its gas pedal recall.” Jordan Chaikin, his attorney, said, “I believe there are 12 or 15 similar class actions out there right now, and obviously there may be many more.” He added, “Basically, we are looking to go ahead and have these cases centralized before one court.”

From the American Association for Justice news release.

Bob Kraft

I am a Dallas, Texas lawyer who has had the privilege of helping thousands of clients since 1971 in the areas of Personal Injury law and Social Security Disability.

About This Blog

The title of this blog reflects my attitude toward those government agencies and insurance companies that routinely mistreat injured or disabled people. As a Dallas, Texas lawyer, I've spent more than 45 years trying to help those poor folk, and I have been frustrated daily by the actions of the people on the other side of their claims. (Sorry if I offended you...)

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