Two Toyota Recalls Draw $32 Million Fine

Long blaming floor mats for overwhelming issues that have led to countless accidents and fatalities, Toyota has been fined the maximum amount under federal law for not properly reporting safety defects to the government, said ABC News.

The $32.425 million in civil penalties is record breaking and levied following two Department of Transportation (DOT) investigations into how the auto giant handled its recalls concerning sudden acceleration and steering problems, said ABC News. The investigation into the steering rod debacle, said ABC News, was partly prompted by an ABC News report about a fatal Toyota truck crash involving an Idaho teenager.

During a lawsuit filed against Toyota by the family of 18-year-old Levi Stewart, Stewart’s family blamed the accident on a defective steering rod, saying the accident could have been avoided had Toyota issued the recall sooner, said ABC. During the case’s discovery, Toyota turned over 40 previously undisclosed cases in which American vehicle owners advised Toyota about steering rod problems before October 2004, when Toyota issued a recall in Japan of 330,000 vehicles concerning the defective rods, said ABC. NHTSA first learned of the defect following an ABC News investigation in early 2010.

“Safety is our top priority and we take our responsibility to protect consumers seriously,” said U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood in a statement. “I am pleased that Toyota agreed to pay the maximum possible penalty and I expect Toyota to work cooperatively in the future to ensure consumers’ safety,” quoted ABC

In one case, Toyota agreed to pay $16.375 million after the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) found it delayed advising the federal government that accelerator pedals in its vehicles could became snagged by floor mats, causing vehicles to speed out of control, said ABC. In the other case, Toyota agreed to pay $16.050 million over accusations it inappropriately delayed a recall of nearly one million trucks and SUVs over defective steering rods, said ABC.

Toyota waited until nearly one year after its steering rod recall in Japan to issue a recall in the U.S.; however, Levi Stewart’s accident occurred in 2007; his father was among the volunteer firemen on the scene, said ABC. “When we got there, the devastation was just more than you could handle,” said Michael Stewart, quoted ABC.

To add insult to injury, the delayed recall notice from Toyota arrived at the Stewart home three months after Levi died, said ABC. “That immediately explained how the wreck happened,” said Michael Stewart. “I was just shocked. How could they wait so long to send out a recall on something so important?” quoted ABC.

Meanwhile, the NHTSA said it is likely that Toyota vehicles have been involved in about 90 deaths linked to unintended acceleration crashes since 2000. Since last November, Toyota has recalled many millions of vehicles worldwide over floor-mat interference and sticking pedal problems that may lead to incidents of unintended acceleration. Some vehicles are subject to both recalls.

Also, lawsuits being filed against the automaker are on the rise, including at least one lawsuit initiated by an insurer. Allstate Insurance Co has sued Toyota Motor Corporation and is looking for over $3 million it and its affiliates paid in claims over accidents connected to the widely publicized unintended acceleration problem.

Despite its assertions of innocence, Toyota Motor Corporation recently settled a lawsuit with the relatives of four family members who were killed in a horrific accident in San Diego that involved California Highway Patrol trooper Mark Saylor and three of his family members whose out-of-control 2009 Lexus plummeted over an embankment and burst into flames.

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