What’s Really Behind Toyota Sudden Acceleration Problems?

A former lawyer for Toyota Motor Corp. has asserted that sticking gas pedals and floor mats are not to blame for unintended acceleration problems that caused the automaker to recall millions of cars in recent months.

Toyota’s reputation for quality has taken a big hit in recent weeks, thanks to several recalls issued by the automaker. On January 21, Toyota recalled 2.3 million vehicles due to accelerator pedals on those vehicles becoming stuck in a depressed position, causing unexpected and unsafe acceleration. Just a few months prior, in September 2009, Toyota announced it was recalling and replacing floor mats on approximately 4.2 million vehicles which were allegedly causing accelerator pedals in the vehicles to become stuck in the depressed position, leading to uncontrollable and rapid acceleration of the vehicle.

Then on Tuesday, Toyota recalled 400,000 hybrid vehicles, including the 2010 Prius and the Lexus HS250h, to fix their brakes. The hybrid recall came after the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA) announced that it had opened an investigation into the 2010 Prius relating to reports of momentary loss of braking capability while traveling over an uneven road surface, pothole or bump. The NHTSA said it had received 124 reports from consumers, including four reports alleging that crashes occurred.

Now, a former Toyota lawyer who once defended the automaker against rollover accident lawsuits recently told ABC News that the unintended acceleration problems are being caused by the electronic throttle system used in Toyota vehicles. According to USA Today, Dimitrios Biller worked for Toyota from 2003 through 2007.

Biller alleges that he learned of the electronics problems while he was a lawyer for Toyota and said his evidence for that would still be considered privileged, USA Today said. Biller has filed his own lawsuit against Toyota alleging it withheld data in civil lawsuits and from the government, and is also being sued by the company.

Toyota denies that electronics play any role in the unintended acceleration problems. The automaker also claims Biller never handled unintended acceleration lawsuits, but according to USA Today, his lawyer said Biller did work on one such suit in 2005.

The U.S. House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform is set to take up the Toyota unintended acceleration issue at a hearing later this month, and it appears the committee’s investigators aren’t satisfied with the company’s explanations either.

“There appears to be a growing body of evidence that neither Toyota nor NHTSA identified all the causes of sudden unintended acceleration in Toyota vehicles,” committee investigators told lawmakers in a memo this week. “Moreover, there is substantial evidence that remedies such as redesigned floor mats have failed to solve the problem.”

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