Orange County District Attorney
Tony Rackauckas, District Attorney
401 Civic Center Drive West
Santa Ana, CA 92701
For Immediate Release
Case # 30-2010-00352900
March 12, 2010
Susan Kang Schroeder
Public Affairs Counsel
OCDA FILES CONSUMER PROTECTION LAWSUIT AGAINST TOYOTA FOR ENDANGERING THE PUBLIC BY KNOWINGLY SELLING DEFECTIVE VEHICLES AND INTENTIONALLY HIDING DEFECTS FROM CONSUMERS
*This is the first consumer protection lawsuit against Toyota by a District Attorney’s Office
SANTA ANA – The Orange County District Attorney (OCDA), with the assistance of the law firm of Robinson, Calcagnie & Robinson, has filed a civil lawsuit against Toyota Motor Sales, U.S.A., Inc. (Toyota) to enjoin them from continuing to endanger the public through the sale of defective vehicles and deceptive business practices. The OCDA is the first District Attorney’s Office in the nation to bring a consumer protection lawsuit against Toyota.
The complaint filed against the defendant accuses Toyota of knowingly selling and leasing hundreds of thousands of cars and trucks with defects that cause sudden unexpected and uncontrollable acceleration (hereafter known as defects). The complaint also states that Toyota continues to sell their defective vehicles to Californians without fixing the known problems and adequately informing consumers of the defects.
OCDA’s Jurisdiction to File Suit
Toyota is a California corporation with its principal headquarters in Torrance. As Toyota is accused of committing unfair business practices in the State of California, including in the County of Orange, the OCDA has the right to bring this consumer protection action on behalf of the People of Orange County. This case is based solely on California law and is directed only at sales, leases, other wrongful conduct, or injuries occurring in California.
Toyota Vehicles Subject to this Complaint
The following Toyota and Lexus brand cars and trucks have defects. The model years are designated in parenthesis: Camry (2007 to 2010), Avalon (2005 to 2010), Prius (2004 to 2009), Tacoma (2005 to 2010), Tundra (2007 to 2010), ES350 (2007 to 2010), IS250 and IS350 (2007 to 2010), and all Toyota and Lexus brand vehicles with model years between 2002 and 2010.
Background on Conduct by Toyota
The complaint accuses the defendants of ignoring, omitting, obfuscating, and misrepresenting evidence that there was a serious safety defect in their vehicles that was resulting in complaints, injuries, and deaths.
Beginning in February 2003, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) launched a series of investigations reviewing complaints into Toyota and Lexus brand vehicles regarding speed control, engine surging, and sudden acceleration. As is outlined in detail in the complaint, Toyota and NHTSA repeatedly closed their investigations for various reasons without finding defects, citing a lack of resources, “no evidence of a system of component failure,” “vehicles operated as designed,” “issue is not a safety concern,” and stating that the claims were of “ambiguous significance.”
In September 2007, Toyota recalled 55,000 vehicles with floor mats suspected of interfering with the accelerator pedal. In August 2008, NHTSA closed another investigation into the sudden acceleration of Tacomas, without finding defects. This was their eighth investigation into Toyota since 2003, with 2,600 complaints at that time regarding Toyota vehicles.
In October 2009, Toyota issued a floor mat recall on 4.2 million Toyota and Lexus vehicles after receiving reports in the United States and Canada that pedals were sticking in certain models. Toyota sent letters to consumers claiming “no defect exists” in their vehicles. The floor mat recall was expanded by over one million additional vehicles in November 2009. Two additional investigations by NHTSA were opened in December 2009 into different Toyota models for stalling and stability control problems.
In January 2010, Toyota recalled 3.4 million vehicles for sticking accelerator pedals. They are accused of falsely claimeing to NHTSA that by fixing the sticking pedals and floor mat problems, the sudden acceleration problem would also be resolved. They are accused of making this false representation with the knowledge that the sudden acceleration problem was not caused by sticking pedals or floor mats and was not resolved by fixing the unrelated defects. In February 2010, Toyota recalled all 2010 Prius, Lexus HS 250h, and Camry Hybrids due to faulty brakes.
On March 5, 2010, data revealed that more than 60 drivers had complained of sudden acceleration in their Toyota vehicles after they had been “repaired” in the recall. As of March 6, 2010, the number of deaths attributed to unintended acceleration in Toyota cars and trucks had reached 58 people.
Toyota’s Knowledge of the Defects and Impact on Public
The OCDA intends to prove the following in the litigation: Despite knowledge of the defects, Toyota continues to sell and lease its cars and trucks while knowingly concealing and suppressing information about the defects from consumers. Since 2001, Toyota is accused of falsely representing to the public that Toyota-manufactured vehicles are safe and reliable. Toyota continues to conceal from consumers that their vehicles cause sudden, uncontrollable acceleration when drivers are not touching the accelerator and attempt to use their brakes.
Toyota is accused of continuing to manufacture, distribute, market, sell, and lease dangerously defective vehicles without disclosing their defects to consumers. Purchasers and lessees of recalled vehicles are not provided with substitute cars and are left to drive dangerous vehicles. As a result of the defective vehicles, people have been injured and killed. Owners and lessees of Toyota vehicles have suffered property damage, economic damage, and many are unable to sell or trade their cars. Kelley Blue Book and Edmunds average the devaluation of Toyota vehicles between 4 percent and 8 percent.
Unlawful, Unfair, and Fraudulent Business Practices
The OCDA intends to prove the following in the litigation: The defendants’ concealment, omissions, and misconduct have caused California consumers to suffer injury and economic losses by failing to disclose defects to consumers prior to their purchasing or leasing of Toyota vehicles.
Toyota’s is accused of deceptive practices that have given them an unfair advantage over their competitors, who do not engage in such practices. In 2003, Toyota became second to General Motors in car sales with almost 6.8 million vehicles sold. In 2006, Toyota passed General Motors as the top selling car company in the United States, with over 8 million vehicles sold. Toyota reported more than $200 billion in worldwide income for their fiscal year ending in March 2010.
Relief sought by the OCDA
The OCDA is seeking to permanently enjoin Toyota from continued unlawful, unfair, deceptive, and fraudulent business practices as it pertains to both consumers and competitors. The OCDA is seeking civil penalties in the amount of $2,500 for every violation of the Unfair Business Practices Act. The Plaintiff is also seeking recovery of attorneys’ fees, investigation costs, and any other equitable relief as deemed just.