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The evidence that Toyota has knowingly been selling defective vehicles is now so powerful that on February 17 Safety Strategies & Research (SRS) had to issue an update to its February 5 report on Toyota Sudden Unexplained Acceleration (SUA). SUA is a situation in which a car accelerates wildly for no reason, frequently causing severe personal injuries and wrongful deaths.

Several days after SRS released its updated report, more damning evidence against Toyota surfaced. An internal document from the summer of 2009 boasted that the company saved $100 million in 2007 by persuading the government to allow Toyota to do nothing more than replace the floor mats in 55,000 vehicles and to call that move a solution to SUA.

In reference to Toyota’s lobbying efforts in Washington, the document also contained a line that said, “Secured safety rulemaking favorable to Toyota.”

Of course, none of this will come as any surprise to the investigators at SRS. In its original report, SRS said that 19 people had died in Toyota and Lexus vehicles, or in vehicles hit by Toyotas and Lexuses. By February 17, the number of deaths attributed to Toyota SUA was up to 37, and it included the wrongful death of a pedestrian. Automotive experts now expect the number of Toyota victims to rise much higher.

“We are going to go over 100 without a doubt,” Clarence Ditlow, executive director of the Center for Auto Safety in Washington said in a Los Angeles Times article published on February 15. “The only question is what is the true number. So many fatalities don’t get attributed to sudden acceleration, especially as you go further back in time before people were paying attention to Toyota.”

The Times’ examination of the complaints against Toyota found that all but one of the deaths reported to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) in 2010 occurred before this year, and one death happened back in 1992.

The SRS update shows that the NHTSA shares blame with Toyota, and the focus of the report is the nine months from April 2004 through December of that year. During that period, the NHTSA received reports of 8 deaths that allegedly occurred because of SUA in 2002-2004 Camrys. Despite the weight of that evidence, the agency basically ignored it.

Mrs. Juanita Grossman was one of those Toyota victims. She died when her Camry slammed into a wall at full speed. She had been pulling slowly out of a parking lot, and the EMTs who attempted to save her noted that both of her feet were “jammed” on the brake pedal.

In response, Toyota said that its brakes always work and that its electronic throttle system never fails unless the computer records it and the car goes into “limp-home” mode. Mrs. Grossman’s family knows otherwise.

The new SRS report says that the NHTSA decided to exclude all but one of the fatal crashes in its complaints, crash, injury, and death counts, and that inaction made Toyota SUA seem to be much less of a danger than it actually was. Toyota, in turn, denied any responsibility and blamed the crashes on driver error.

This is Toyota’s dismissive response to several of the complaints in 2004:

“In reviewing 8013543 and 10045944, Toyota believes that if the throttle had opened, as was alleged by the complainant, and the consumer was applying the brake pedal as stated the vehicle brakes would have restrained vehicle motion. For this reason, we believe that these complaints are unrelated to the failure of the electronic throttle control system, and again consider them as similar to complaints referenced in other SA investigations and, per your memo, outside the scope of this investigation.”

Office of Defects Investigation #10045944 described a Lexus driver’s SUA experience:

“While pulling into a parking space, at 2-4 mph, with my foot on the brake, the car suddenly accelerated at full speed, jumping the curb and hitting a tree with full force. Because of previous concerns with throttle problems noted with the dealership at 1000 and 5000 mile check, I immediately called the Lexus dealership. After a conference call with Lexus roadside assistance and the dealership, my car was flatbedded to the dealership. The frontal crash rendered the vehicle undrivable. Radiator damage with leakage of fluid covered a portion of the parking lot. The Lexus dealership said there was no problem with the car.

“I could have been killed or somebody else’s life could have been in danger… On the night of the accident I learned by reviewing complaints from the Office of Defect Investigations on the NHTSA web site that the problems have been known by the corporate office of Lexus from as early as January, 2002 in regards to all of the above problems. I also found out there have been two recalls on this vehicle that I was not informed about. I will be requesting an investigation with the Lexus east regional office and discussing this with the Rockville Lexus office. I believe that this car is unsafe to drive.”

Koua Fong Lee’s Toyota SUA experience was infinitely worse than that. As a result, 3 people are dead, and Mr. Lee is serving 8 years at Lino Lakes Prison in Minnesota for a violent collision that occurred while he was behind the wheel of his Toyota.

In 2006, Mr. Lee was driving home from church with his 4-year old daughter and pregnant wife when his 1996 Camry, which is not a model subject to recall, surged out of control. It reached 90 MPH before it crashed into another car, causing 3 wrongful deaths and 2 serious personal injuries. Mr. Lee described a typical case of SUA, but a jury found him guilty of criminal vehicular homicide. Now that so many other cases of Toyota SUA have surfaced, many in Minnesota are seeking a review of Mr. Lee’s case.

All of these reports of Toyota’s wrongful deaths and personal injuries are obviously bad for business, and in an attempt at damage control, Yoshi Inaba, President and Chief Operating Officer ofToyota Motor America, promised that, “Our New Year’s resolution is to redouble our efforts to provide the best engineering, manufacturing, and after-sales support in the auto industry.”

That may sound sincere, but a little basic arithmetic shows just how worthless the promise is. Over the last decade, Toyota has completely ignored the evidence against it. The company has made no effort to find the causes of SUA and to put the safety of its customers first. It has issued its massive recalls only because of government pressure.

So, doubling that effort means 2 X 0. And 2 x 0 = zero, or nothing.

If Toyota truly cared about its customers, and about everyone else on the road or sidewalk, the company would have sincerely addressed SUA without outside pressure.

This updated SRS report shows that many Toyota victims have not yet realized that Toyota SUA may have been the cause of their injuries. If you or someone you love has suffered injuries in a crash involving a Toyota or Lexus, contact us to learn if legal action can compensate you for your damages.

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Richard Alexander