Derek Brandt is a partner at Simmons Hanly Conroy. He specializes in commercial litigation and currently represents the owners of Toyota and Lexus vehicles in the first-filed class action relating to sudden unintended acceleration, along with co-counsel McCuneWright LLP and Hanly Conroy Bierstein Sheridan Fisher & Hayes LLP. Derek and his co-counsel are also currently investigating potential unintended acceleration lawsuits for families injured in a recalled Toyota vehicle.
A lot of people seem to be asking this question lately. Well, what is going on with Toyota?
Toyota finds itself at the crosshairs of governmental, public, and legal scrutiny these days. Some commentators are calling this the most profound corporate public relations test since the Tylenol cyanide recalls of 1982. But the truth is, while Johnson & Johnson was and has been almost universally lauded for its careful, professional and responsible handling of the Tylenol situation almost three decades ago, Toyota seems almost determined to make every misstep it can.
Over a period of almost ten years, at least seventeen different Toyota and Lexus models have been the subject of driver complaints relating to sudden unintended acceleration. Thousands of complaints have been registered with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (“NHTSA”) or with Toyota.
Many drivers who have experienced these harrowing unintended accelerations say that their car shot like a bolt, on its own, and that nothing they could do would stop it.
These complaints have been linked to hundreds of car accidents and multiple fatalities. But not until the high-profile accident killing off-duty California Highway Patrol officer Mark Saylor and three members of his family in August 2009 did Toyota finally acknowledge that there might actually be a problem.
The Saylors’ Lexus accelerated out of control to over 100 mph, while they made a frantic 911 call explaining that they couldn’t slow the vehicle. Forced, finally, to respond, Toyota offered this diagnosis: blame the floor mats. But Toyota couldn’t scapegoat the floor mats when a Texas family was killed in an inexplicable accident the day after Christmas 2009 – and police discovered their floor mats in the trunk.
It was then that Toyota started to make noise about brake pedals and accelerator pedals. Finally, in January of this year, Toyota temporarily halted production of certain models and told the public that it had a “comprehensive” fix for the sudden unintended acceleration problem.
But, somehow, that “comprehensive” fix doesn’t extend to many of the models and model-year vehicles that have experienced sudden unintended acceleration incidents. And, while Toyota claims that the accelerator problem is due to friction or wear-and-tear which can be exacerbated over time, Toyota’s fix, somehow, doesn’t extend to the oldest model-year cars which have experienced the problem.
Putting it all together, it may be awhile before we know whether Toyota even now has properly diagnosed the problem that it denied for so long and then blamed first on floor mats, and the on brake pedals, and then sticky accelerators.
Most of us know now that the Tylenol cyanide poisoning was believed to have been perpetrated by a third party over which Johnson & Johnson had no control. But that doesn’t mean that we can’t compare Johnson & Johnson’s handling of that very serious situation with Toyota’s response to its current mess.
Seven people within a single regional market died from the Tylenol poisonings. Within six days of the first death, Johnson & Johnson instituted a nationwide recall of Tylenol products. Toyota, by contrast, spent years denying a problem even existed with sudden unintended accelerations and only began to make piecemeal fixes while ignoring its customers’ and the public’s safety, eventually settling on a “comprehensive” fix that seems to be anything but “comprehensive.”
Undeniably, there has been a lot of talk about the Toyota recalls suddenly. But beyond talk, along with our co-counsel at McCuneWright LLP and Hanly Conroy Bierstein Sheridan Fisher & Hayes LLP, we represent the owners of Toyota and Lexus vehicles in the first-filed class action relating to sudden unintended acceleration. So, we have been at the forefront of this issue for some time.
And, on February 3, 2010, we re-enforced our leadership role by filing a Motion for Preliminary Injunction asking the court overseeing that case to order Toyota to extend its recall to all of the model and model-years subject to sudden unintended acceleration and to order Toyota to employ a failsafe brake over-ride mechanism which can prevent sudden unintended acceleration accidents – no matter what their root cause.
So, if you or a loved one has been injured in an accident relating to a Toyota or Lexus sudden unintended acceleration, please contact us. We’ve been at the front of this litigation since the beginning.