California sues Toyota for hiding defects
Published: Saturday March 13, 2010
A California prosecutor has filed a civil lawsuit against Toyota, accusing the Japanese carmaker of intentionally hiding deadly defects from consumers.
"We'll be alleging in court on behalf of the people of Orange County that Toyota knowingly sold cars and trucks with defects that caused Toyotas to accelerate suddenly and uncontrollably," Orange Country District Attorney Tony Rackauckas told reporters on Friday.
"We intend to prove that Toyota ignored, omitted, obfuscated, and misrepresented the evidence that was amassing for many years regarding serious safety defects in their cars."
Toyota has already been hit with dozens of lawsuits from owners seeking compensation in the wake of a series of mass recalls due to defects that led to sudden, unintended acceleration.
The carmaker has also been called to Washington to answer a congressional investigation and faces scrutiny by securities regulators and a US federal grand jury investigating whether there is sufficient evidence for criminal charges related to problems with Toyota's brakes and accelerators.
Friday's suit is the first filed under consumer protection laws and the district attorney is seeking a civil penalty of 2,500 dollars for every violation of the state's unfair business practices act.
"These defects exist in hundreds of thousands of Toyotas sold to Californians over the last several years," Rackauckas said.
Rackauckas said the purpose of the suit is to protect the public from "unlawful, unfair, and fraudulent business practices."
"Toyota has known about these defects but intentionally did not disclose them to California purchasers," he said.
"Rather than halt the sales of products in California until the problem was fixed, they made a business decision to continue selling and leasing their defective products to Californians."
Toyota said in a statement that it "has not received the complaint and is not in a position to comment on pending litigation."
Toyota has insisted that it has found a solution to the defects that triggered the recall of more than eight million vehicles worldwide, including six million in the United States, and have been blamed for about 50 US deaths.
The most high profile case was the death of California Highway Patrol officer and three members of his family whose heart-wrenching 911 call for help has been played repeatedly on national television.
Critics question whether the mechanical fixes being applied to recalled vehicles are sufficient or if there's a problem with the electronic engine controls.
The Japanese automaker made headlines earlier this week after a Prius owner sought help from police after the car sped uncontrollably along a San Diego freeway.
Federal safety regulators are investigating more than 60 reports of sudden acceleration in Toyota vehicles which had already received the mechanical fix.