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With its hands red from the blood of wrongful deaths and personal injuries caused by Sudden Unexplained Acceleration (SUA) in its cars and SUVs, Toyota has launched a public relations campaign that says, essentially, “Nobody can prove that we did anything wrong.”

Sudden Unexplained Acceleration occurs when a car suddenly gains speed for no apparent reason. The brakes fail to stop the car, and the passengers find themselves in terrifying, life-threatening danger.

Denial has been Toyota’s response to the tragedies that it has caused, but the truth is that many people, including Sean Kane, can prove that Toyota has done something wrong. Mr. Kane is President of Safety Research & Strategies in Rehoboth, Massachusetts, an organization that works to hold automakers responsible for the safety of their vehicles.

Mr. Kane played a major role in exposing the deadly Ford Explorer/Firestone tire connection. He’s also been a major force in exposing the dangers presented by old tires, and auto companies and tire companies don’t like him. After investigating SUA in Toyotas and Lexuses, he has attributed 16 wrongful deaths and 237 personal injuries to the problem.

Four of those deaths involved California Highway Patrol officer Mark Saylor3 and his family. In August, Mr. Saylor was driving a Lexus on a freeway in San Diego when the accelerator stuck and the car reached a speed of 120 MPH before it crashed. The impact killed Mr. Saylor, his wife, their daughter, and Mr. Saylor’s bother-in-law, who had made a frantic 911 call describing the last moments of their lives.

Toyota responded by blaming the problem on floor mats and issuing a huge recall. The company said that SUA happened either because the mats came loose and stuck under the accelerator pedal, or when a dealer installed the wrong mats in a car. In both cases, Toyota said, it was the mat and not something in the car’s engine or electronic controls that caused the SUA. That’s a weak excuse, and it raises the obvious question of why Toyota chose not to correct the problem with the mats after the first incident occurred many years ago.

Driver’s Ed teacher Steven Smith in Massachusetts strongly disagrees with the mat theory. Mr. Smith had the Toyota SUA experience with students at the wheel of a Camry. His first thought was that the students were not following his instructions, but when he drove the car himself, the same mysterious acceleration occurred. Even when he removed the floor mat, the car continued to accelerate after he took his foot off the gas pedal. Mr. Smith and his students were more fortunate than Mr. Saylor and his family, but their scares show that millions of Toyota and Lexus drivers are still in danger.

When Toyota claims that no one has proved that the company is selling defective cars, it means that the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), the government agency responsible for improving highway and vehicle safety, has not found a definitive explanation for the carnage. If the NHTSA has been unable to prove conclusively that Toyotas have been killing and injuring people because of SUA, it’s not because of a lack of complaints against the company.

The NHTSA has conducted 6 investigations of Toyota SUA over the past 6 years, but the agency has not found a definitive cause. In response, Toyota has gloated and proclaimed its innocence of all wrongdoing. In a letter to its customers, Toyota proclaimed, “This is the sixth time in the past six years that NHTSA has undertaken such an exhaustive review of allegations of unintended acceleration on Toyota and Lexus vehicles and the sixth time the agency has found no vehicle based cause for the unwanted acceleration allegations.”

The NHTSA promptly reacted with its own statement, in which it accused Toyota of putting out “inaccurate and misleading information” when Toyota announced “that no defect exists in vehicles in which the driver’s floor mat is compatible with the vehicle and properly secured.”

That’s not the kind of attitude that Toyota’s marketing machine has led American consumers to expect. Toyota has become the world’s largest vehicle seller because of the alleged quality and value of its cars and also because of the perceived excellence of its business model and its people. Toyota has marketed itself as a corporation that’s morally superior to every other carmaker out there, and the company’s website comes right out and says as much to college students considering a career with Toyota:

“Toyota’s integrity, passion, and innovation extend beyond vehicle manufacturing. We also believe in helping people improve the quality of life in their communities. We work with organizations, schools, universities, and other businesses to support programs that help make our world a better place. As a member of the Toyota Motor Sales, USA, Inc. group, you would be an equal partner in this community outreach.”

Sean Kane and Steven Smith strongly disagree with Toyota’s inflated opinion of itself, and many victims of personal injuries and survivors of the victims of SUA in Toyotas and Lexuses also fail to see the superior moral character at Toyota.

If you or someone you love has been a victim of Toyota SUA, call us. We are personal injury attorneys who have extensive experience holding automobile manufacturers responsible for defective cars and trucks.  Check our record. 

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Richard Alexander