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Toyota Litigation Update

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The Toyota litigation news story has had some surprising twists and turns of late, all of which essentially mean nothing for Toyota litigants. Recall that last year, reports of sudden unexpected acceleration (SUA) problems in Toyota cars were abundant. There were disappointing responses from Toyota that caused a PR disaster for the company, government hearings to look into Toyota problems and finally a recall of 8,000 vehicles.

A recent report in the Wall Street Journal (WSJ) claimed, “Based on the black box data, NHTSA investigators found that the brake was not engaged and the throttle was wide open, according to a person familiar with the matter.” Now come reports that the NHTSA never provided any information on its investigation and the information was leaked by Toyota for PR purposes.

Regardless of whether the story is true or not, black box studies are not good indicators of what happened in these crashes anyway. While details on how these devices work is a closely guarded secret with Toyota, the company has been repeatedly vocal about the unreliability of data secured from these devices.

In addition, the black boxes only record data in certain specific circumstances. There must be a severe crash, air bag deployment or near-deployment. So out of those nearly 38,000 claims, only a small portion would have data to examine.

Dr. David Gilbert of Southern Illinois University Carbondale proved that there was a fault in Toyota’s electronic brake design. His findings have been corroborated by other experts as well. Thousands of credible reports have come in from drivers about SUA in their Toyotas. How can they all have been misapplication of the accelerator?

The US press ran with the story without verifying facts independently. The story’s inaccuracies were only revealed when the UK-based website just-auto.com tried to confirm the facts of the story with the US DOT. The site reports, ‘”That story was planted by Toyota,” an NHTSA spokeswoman in Washington told just-auto. “Toyota is the source – yes we know that for definite.”’

Toyota faces more than 325 lawsuits in connection with the alleged electronic brake malfunctions. So Toyota’s PR stunt, to the unfortunate detriment of the WSJ reporters’ credibility, is not really surprising. But had one of the two reporters who wrote the story made a simple phone call, they may have been saved the embarrassment. The NHTSA told just-auto that the agency knew in advance that Toyota was going to report the false information.

While there is no evidence to show the problems stem only from driver error, there is proof that Toyota’s underhanded PR stunts are working. The value of the company’s stock rose 1 percent upon the release of the WSJ story.

The lesson here is that those who suffered damages because of malfunction in a Toyota vehicle should not rely on the press for information. The truth of the case will come out in court and justice will eventually be served. If your Toyota malfunctioned and you suffered serious injury or damaged, please contact our office for a free evaluation of your case.

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