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Report Raises Doubts About Regulators’ Response to Sudden Acceleration Complaints

As a Miramar auto product defects attorney, I have been watching the Toyota recall with some interest. Toyota and Lexus are recalling 3.8 million late-model vehicles, their biggest U.S. recall, because of reports that problems with the floor mats have caused accelerators to “stick” and vehicles to accelerate uncontrollably. The initial reports on the recall cited only a handful of cases. But according to a Nov. 8 article in the Los Angeles Times, more than 1,000 owners have complained to federal safety regulators since 2001 about sudden acceleration — and regulators have dismissed or excluded most of those complaints. The Times suggested that regulators eliminated so many complaints that they may have eliminated any chance to stop the problem earlier.

When the accelerator pedal sticks open, the newspaper said, vehicles can reach three-figure speeds. The open throttle makes some braking systems useless, and the problem can be exacerbated by newer vehicle systems that make neutral gear hard to find and require a three-second delay before shutdown. According to the Times, the defect has caused 19 deaths and many more injuries, as vehicles accelerate uncontrollably into objects or over cliffs and bridges. Among the dead were California Highway Patrolman Mark Saylor and his wife, daughter and brother-in-law. Saylor was trained in handling high-speed vehicles, but that training didn’t help him when a loaner vehicle from his dealer went out of control east of San Diego, crashing over an embankment at over 100 mph.

Thanks to complaints from owners, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has undertaken eight investigations of the problem in the past seven years. But according to the Times, many complaints never got considered at all because regulators found reasons to exclude them. For example, the agency received 37 complaints about unintended acceleration in Lexus vehicles, but threw out 36 of those complaints. Complaints saying brakes didn’t stop the vehicles were thrown out because officials believed brakes could always stop a vehicle. In its reports to the NHTSA, Toyota also excluded reports of sudden acceleration lasting more than a few seconds, saying this was impossible. Exclusions for reasons like this allowed the NHTSA to close the Lexus investigation because it “found no data indicating the existence of a deficit trend.” In all, five investigations were closed for lack of enough complaints.

As a Cooper City automotive defect attorney, I am glad that the vehicles are being recalled now, regardless of what happened before. But if we learn that Toyota did cover up the unintended acceleration defect — through carelessness or intentional deceit — it has put itself in a very bad position in the lawsuits that are sure to follow. Under the law, manufacturers are legally responsible for all of the injuries their defective products cause, even if they didn’t know about the problems. If evidence shows that they did know about the problem and actively took steps to cover it up, they will be just as liable — but the juries in their cases will be rightly shocked and horrified. In my experience, this tends to lead to very large recoveries for the people suing — in this case, the people who were permanently injured or lost loved ones to defective Toyota and Lexus vehicles.

Based in Hollywood/Pembroke Pines, Cohn, Smith & Cohn represents people throughout South Florida who were seriously hurt because of someone else’s negligence. That includes the negligence of a manufacturer that made a defective, unsafe product that seriously hurt someone. Our Hialeah defective auto parts lawyers have more than 25 years of experience fighting for our clients’ rights against insurance companies and other large corporations, so we understand the personal and financial pressures our clients face. We work our hardest to even the playing field for ordinary people, in part by helping them claim full compensation for serious accidents. In a lawsuit, victims of crashes caused by defective cars and parts can claim all of their past and future medical costs; all lost income; and damages for their pain, trauma and any wrongful death or permanent disability.

If you were seriously hurt or lost someone to an automotive defect — including a Toyota or Lexus with unintended acceleration — Cohn, Smith & Cohn can help. To set up a free, confidential evaluation of your case, please contact us through the Internet or call (954) 431-8100 today.

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