Last week, Toyota was hit with a record $16.4 million fine for hiding its "sticky pedal" sudden acceleration defect from federal safety regulators and the American public. Now, it looks like Toyota may get hit again.
From The Hill:
Safety regulators may seek a second penalty against Toyota because of indications there were two separate problems with recalled pedals.
A letter from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to the carmaker showed that Toyota waited at least four months to recall 2.3 million vehicles after defects were found with accelerator pedals. The agency imposed a $16.4 million fine last week, the largest ever assessed by the Transportation Department.
The agency told Toyota that it could’ve been subject to $13.8 billion in fines if there weren’t caps set under U.S. law.
I am curious why the government would cap such fines to begin with. What is $13.4 million to a multi-billion dollar, multinational corporation like Toyota?
To date, there have been more than 100 confirmed sudden acceleration deaths. Even if there are only 100 — the $16.4 million fine amounts to $164,000 per death. What’s your life worth? Is it worth more than $164,000? What about your spouse’s life? What about your parents? What about your children’s lives? Do you think it’s ok for an auto company like Toyota to hide a known safety defect because it only has to pay $164,000 for every person it kills?
Ignoring the fact that Toyota knowingly hid a safety defect that killed people, let’s look at the fine from a purely financial viewpoint. According to US News, Toyota made $43 billion in three years from 2006 to 2008. $16.4 million is 0.038% of Toyota’s net profit during those three years. During those three years, Toyota earned an average profit of $14.333 billion per year. Toyota’s "record fine" amounts to 0.11% of Toyota’s average annual profit — just barely more than one-tenth of one percent.
Toyota’s conduct has been egregious and has cost lives. Toyota should be held accountable and not protected by some arbitrary cap designed to protect the corporate bottom line rather than protecting families.
Toyota’s focus on PR, market share and profits rather than on safety and actually fixing the deadly sudden acceleration problem is both disturbing and disappointing. Rather than focusing on a solution to the sudden acceleration crisis, Toyota has remained steadfastly focused on protecting its image rather than protecting its drivers. Toyota continues to put market share and profits ahead of safety and human life.
Toyota went so far as to create internal company documents bragging about how Toyota "wins" when safety loses. In fact, Toyota bragged about saving more than $100 million when it used its special interest lobbyists — former NHTSA safety officials hired by Toyota — to avoid a sudden acceleration recall in 2007. Only a month after Toyota’s bragging document was produced, a family of four was killed when their Lexus vehicle accelerated out of control in California.
When automotive professor, David Gilbert, created a test that showed Toyota’s electronics could cause sudden unintended acceleration, Toyota’s litigation defense lawyers used an "unlimited budget" to buy testing designed solely to discredit Professor Gilbert’s test (a test that Toyota officials admitted to Congress that Toyota had been able to reproduce).
Toyota engineers did not develop a test to see if they correct the design flaw that permitted electronically induced acceleration. Rather, Toyota’s defense lawyers used hired guns to discredit an independent automotive professor that dared to challenge Toyota’s public statements.
Throughout the sudden acceleration time line, one thing has been consistent: Toyota has consistently misled the public about the nature and severity of the Toyota sudden acceleration problem. When given the opportunity to come forward with information, Toyota has chosen lie after lie after lie.
You can view the time line of Toyota’s checkered safety history here.
Toyota has a well-documented history of attempted cover-ups of safety problems. The Detroit Free Press has documented how Toyota has stonewalled the investigation of these problems since at least 2003.
After dragging its feet and being called "safety deaf" on the sudden acceleration recall, Toyota did it again when Toyota knew of the problems with its Prius brakes long before warning its drivers, customers and innocent motorists. Not only are the multiple Toyota recalls hurting consumers, they are hurting rental car companies as well.
Now, Toyota has said its own data recorders are not reliable. What are these black boxes saying that has Toyota withholding this evidence. If these black boxes said that drivers were hitting the gas pedal instead of the brake, you know Toyota would be holding these black boxes up in front of every television camera and microphone in the country. What else is Toyota covering up?
Toyota has spent millions of dollars trying to convince the public that electronics are not a cause of Toyota’s sudden acceleration defect. However, a panel of leading experts, including the former head of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration ("NHTSA"), held a press conference last week to refute Toyota’s claims that electronics play no role in Toyota’s sudden acceleration problem.
You can view the entire press conference here.
Safety experts found a "smoking gun" Toyota document from 2002 where Toyota identified electronic problems that caused "engine surge" in its 2002 Camry vehicles. We also learned last week that federal safety investigators asked Toyota in 2007 to install software that would prevent sudden acceleration.
Just this week, more evidence has surfaced proving that Toyota knew about the sudden acceleration problem for years, but hid the problem from safety inspectors and the public.
It’s time that the public finally hold Toyota accountable for putting profits over safety and money over lives.
Brett Emison is currently a partner at Langdon & Emison, a firm dedicated to helping injured victims across the country from their primary office near Kansas City. Mainly focusing on catastrophic injury and death cases as well as complex mass tort and dangerous drug cases, Mr. Emison often deals with automotive defects, automobile crashes, railroad crossing accidents (train accidents), trucking accidents, dangerous and defective drugs, defective medical devices.