Toyota agrees to pay $1.2 billion over deadly acceleration problems

Hundreds of private personal injury and wrongful death lawsuits yet to be settled

A U.S. District Judge in Manhattan has approved a deal that will see Toyota pay $1.2 billion in exchange for an end to a federal government criminal probe, according to Bloomberg News. The settlement arose from an issue with the acceleration in a number of Toyota cars which effectively disabled the brakes and caused the cars to accelerate in excess of 100mph. The problem led to several deaths and hundreds of private lawsuits against the carmaker.

Toyota accused of mishandling recall

The issue came to public attention after a horrific crash in California in 2009 that left four people dead after the Lexus ES350 they were driving in accelerated uncontrollably. In response to the crash, Toyota recalled eight of its models, including the ES350, due to floor-mat entrapment.

However, according to the federal government, the problem went far beyond the eight recalled models. The Corolla, for example, had one of the worst records for floor-mat entrapment according to Toyota's own engineers. Toyota, however, did not share that finding with government safety officials nor include the Corolla in the initial recall.

According to Bloomberg News, the government accused the automaker of effectively engaging in fraud by downplaying the safety problems to the public. In exchange for the settlement, the federal government has agreed not to prosecute Toyota for wire fraud for a period of three years, so long as the company cooperates with authorities.

Personal lawsuits still outstanding

The $1.6 billion settlement brings Toyota's total legal payouts related to the acceleration issue to $3 billion dollars. The settlement does not, however, end the more than 300 private lawsuits stemming from the vehicle problems. So far, Toyota has agreed to settle 131 lawsuits, although the specific terms of those settlements were not made public.

Lawsuits against the company have ranged from personal injury and wrongful death to vehicle owners claiming the acceleration problem hurt the resale value of their cars. Toyota previously settled for $1.6 billion with car owners over those economic losses.

Product liability and personal injury

The Toyota case highlights just how dangerous a defective product can be when a manufacturer fails to adequately address a defect. Furthermore, wrongful death and personal injury lawsuits arising out of defective products can take years to process. Many corporations will use their considerable financial and legal resources to try to avoid liability issues. As such, anybody injured by a defective product needs a lawyer who is not only experienced in personal injury and product liability issues, but who is also willing to put forth a considerable degree of time and attention to a specific product liability case. Such a lawyer can guide his client through the complicated legal process surrounding product liability lawsuits and will fight for fair compensation for the pain and suffering endured by his client.