Toyota Floor Mat
In August 2009, an off-duty California state trooper lost control of his Lexus ES350, resulting in an accident that killed several family member passengers in his vehicle. The 2009 manufactured Lexus model and this fatal accident in the San Diego area are among a growing number of motor vehicle collisions that have resulted in injuries and fatalities involving Toyota and Lexus vehicles in the U.S. in 2009.
Driver’s Side Floor Mats Implicated in Accident
The inspectors who examined the family’s car found driver’s side all-weather floor mats longer than the standard floor mats that should have been fitted in the Lexus. This finding lead to the investigation of the possibility that this mat became stuck under the accelerator pedal, causing the high speed accident. The Lexus in question was loaned to the family while their own car was undergoing repairs.
Warning Issued by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration
This accident, and reports of the involvement of Toyota-brand vehicles in other fatal crashes, possibly with similar causes, prompted The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to issue a press release advising all owners of Toyota and Lexus cars to remove the driver’s side floor mats and not replace them until the issue has been resolved.
Toyota issued several statements on the matter and recalled any vehicles which may be affected, at present only in the U.S. market, and advised all dealers to check and replace floor mats in all models in their showrooms. Almost 1,400 nationwide Toyota dealerships were affected by the recall.
Toyota Criticized and Sued
Not only does Toyota face a class action lawsuit over the mat defect, the company may face additional issues on the legal front. The unfortunate publicity related to the floor mat issue came in a year when Toyota was under fire for other defects, such as excessive rust problems in new trucks. The company also faces the re-opening of multiple lawsuits regarding rollover accidents due to new information suggesting the questionable action of certain staff members with regard to evidence.
The issue with the floor mats leading to increased acceleration has lead to additional criticism. It seems other manufacturers have developed safety precautions related to floor mats that Toyota has yet to adopt.
Safety Concerns of the Public Regarding Toyota Floor Mats
The car involved in the San Diego accident was not the regular vehicle owned by the family. The family borrowed the Lexus from their local dealership while waiting for their personal car to be repaired. This issue raises alarm in families who own different models of Toyota cars, should their family vehicle also require repair and a defective rental be loaned in the interim.
Toyota customers are questioning local dealerships to find out if any of these problems could also occur in their own cars, and are very concerned about the situation. Consumers are hoping for conclusive answers and the clarification of the situation through pending lawsuits.
Toyota Floor Mat Recall Lawsuits
Several issues with floor mats becoming stuck under the accelerator pedal have left Toyota open to possible class action and individual lawsuits. It is claimed that Toyota knew that there was a problem with the mats more than two years ago.
In a New York Times article dated October 1, 2009, a National Highway Traffic Safety Administration investigation was identified as early as 2007, due to reports that 2007 Lexus ES 350 owners were experiencing problems with unexplained, sudden acceleration.
Successful Lawsuit over Death due to Floor Mat Issue
In 2007, Troy Johnson was killed when his car was rear-ended by a Toyota Camry when the owner lost control of the car. Court reports show the Camry was traveling at nearly 125 miles an hour when it hit the Honda. Johnson’s wife successfully sued Toyota, wining an undisclosed amount of damages. The crux of the case involved the liability of Toyota and the clearing of the driver, who survived the crash, from any personal liability.
Since this time, Johnson’s wife has repeatedly urged Toyota to act to prevent further deaths from this defect, and, to date, Toyota has declined to comment on the case. Much has been heard in the press about this issue with customers who have experienced the issue becoming increasingly vocal in an effort to prevent more deaths from the problem.
The investigation into cases involving the floor mats is still open and those involved in Toyota floor mat-related accidents are hopeful that upcoming results will bring about closure.
Pending Lawsuit Seeks Class Action Status
Chris Chan Park and his friend, Seong Bae Choi, two San Francisco residents, are seeking class action status for their suit against Toyota for lack of proper action on vehicles made since 2001 with defects leading to uncontrollable acceleration. The pair claims that between their two Toyotas, a 2004 Camry and a 2008 FJ Cruiser, they have experienced many incidents of the accelerator pedal glitch, causing them great concern. The results may set legal precedents to be applied to other cases not yet tried in court.
Approximately 2,000 incidents involving issues with increased acceleration due to floor mats in Toyota vehicles have been reported. Another issue under examination during these cases is a possible programming glitch that causes accelerators to malfunction. Speculation in the press indicates Toyota may receive official criticism about the way they handled early reports of problems.
At least 300 cases regarding new evidence relating to extreme amounts of unexplained acceleration in Toyota cars have been reopened. There is a possibility evidence may have been destroyed by Toyota staff, in an attempt to hide facts about car defects and communications issued to dealerships that were concerned following customer reports of strange acceleration problems.
Roughly 3.8 million vehicles are involved in the recall of Toyota cars. These vehicles will all be checked for floor mat defects, though it is unclear whether other faults, such as throttle design and computer programming glitches will also be repaired, since there is some debate over how much these other problems are to blame for the accidents.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has conducted six different investigations about runaway Toyotas since 2007.
With Toyota’s ex-lawyer suing the company on behalf of plaintiffs who have received injuries or sustained losses from the company’s products, it seems Toyota may be devoting much time and money to litigation and attending court proceedings in the coming years. There is a lot of information in the public domain that suggests any lawsuits joined against the company will meet with some success, since there are already several cases on record where the victims have won compensation. This typically results in the filing of additional lawsuits, once a few ground-breaking cases have proved successful.
Toyota Floor Mat Safety Concerns
Many Toyota customers feel they have been misled regarding serious safety issues pertaining to floor mats, following claims that fatal accidents were caused by floor mats becoming trapped under gas pedals.
Many claim to have experienced this problem when no floor mats were fitted at all. This suggests the issue is a deeper problem, involving the design of pedals and the absence of potentially life-saving software which stops the accelerator when brakes are applied at the same time. Since Toyota is already involved in current lawsuits claiming the company covered up crash test results, it may be difficult for them to admit to any more mistakes, and a generally guarded attitude from the company has angered and frustrated customers seeking answers.
Injuries Sustained by Floor Mat Malfunctions
Injuries related to floor mat malfunctions range from suffering from a thorough scare to death. Fear of using the family car due to unpleasant experiences, such as vehicles surging forward into busy traffic at intersections and cars becoming unresponsive to drivers and leaving the road completely, has caused some drivers to feel reluctant to get behind the wheel of any car. This fear can severely hinder a person’s ability to function in society, since a car is a basic need of modern life.
From Personal Injury to Property Damage
Those affected by faulty floor mats are often left with repair bills and loss of transportation when their Toyota car is unusable following an accident. Paying for the damage to their car is likely not the only bill faced by these customers. Many were involved in accidents that damaged other property or injured other drivers and their passenger which also require compensation.
Raised Insurance Premiums
Regardless of the end result of all the investigations resulting from these accidents, the insurance claims are often processed long before any lawsuit comes to court. To keep insurance current, many who have been adversely affected by the floor mat problem, and been involved in accidents, are now faced with extremely high insurance premiums, with no recourse to any appeals.
Since these accidents were only recently seen as related, many accidents that should have been investigated further were settled, and in many cases, the drivers accepted at least part of the blame for accidents. This is because local police and crash investigators read the road markings after a crash and many of them came to the conclusion the reasons for the accidents involved drivers traveling too fast. Since it is not the place of local police forces to look further into the reasons a car was traveling at excessive speed, unless there are compelling reasons to do so, such as in the case of the San Diego State trooper, many Toyota owners were doubly punished for accidents that were not their fault, where they had no blame or liability.
Issue with Gas Pedals
The reasons for the multiple accidents may involve not only floor mat design, but a lack of software programming many other modern cars have, which instructs the engine to shut off the accelerator when the brakes are applied at the same time. This would be a sensible move in the prevention of crashes related to floor mats malfunctioning. Toyota has announced they will replace the gas pedal on the models they have recalled, but there are no details of a programming addition which would greatly assist in controlling a runaway car with a stuck accelerator pedal.
The Toyota dealerships will begin work on some models by shortening the length of gas pedals until the replacements are issued. This is a short term repair only, with the full refitting program beginning in January 2010. Development of new pedals will take much longer and are projected to begin in April. An addition of software which overrides the dual instructions to gas pedal and brake is a welcome move in the right direction, but only if it is installed on all models affected.
Toyota and Sudden Unintended Acceleration
Since October 2009, Toyota Motor Corp. has recalled more than 8 million vehicles in their fleet to address problems of sudden unintended acceleration (SUA), or incidents involving a vehicle’s engine suddenly surging out of control. Thousands of reports of “runaway Toyotas” have been submitted to federal safety regulators over the past decade, but Toyota has repeatedly blamed the incidents on floor mat interference, sticky accelerator pedals, and even driver error, insisting that there is no design flaw in the company’s electronic throttle-control system.
From 2005 to 2009, the Toyota floor mat recall affected millions of Toyota vehicles, addressing problems with driver’s side floor mats that the company believed could become lodged under accelerator pedals, causing vehicles to surge out of control. Numerous Toyota floor mat recall lawsuits followed, with some victims stating that their vehicles were idling when the incident occurred or that the floor mats were not even in their cars when they experienced the sudden acceleration surges. Some victims reported surges in acceleration when their vehicles were locked in cruise control on a highway.
The company has refused to attribute SUA incidents to their electronics, though many experts believe the electronic throttle control systems may be to blame for the sudden surges in speed that can occur even while the driver presses the brake pedal. Mounting evidence in the investigations into Toyota safety standards suggest that the problem is larger than Toyota has been willing to admit.
Statistics on Toyota SUA-Related Incidents
Beginning in 2003, the National Highway Traffic Administration (NHTSA) conducted eight separate investigations into Camry, Tacoma, Sienna, and Lexus models and their ability to cause unintended acceleration, after receiving numerous complaints of SUA from consumers. Investigations were brief and cursory, with no cause determined in five cases and issues with floor mats said to be the cause in the other three cases.
Consumers reported that Toyota and Lexus vehicles would suddenly surge forward into traffic despite attempts to push the brake pedal, and that the malfunctioning vehicles could only be controlled by putting the car into neutral, using the emergency break, turning the car off, or restarting the engine entirely.
The Massachusetts research firm Safety & Strategies, Inc. estimates that there have been at least 2,262 incidents of SUA reported to the NHTSA in Toyota and Lexus vehicles since 1999, with 815 crashes, 341 injuries, and at least 34 deaths potentially related to the incidents. Though Toyota has issued extensive recalls to address consumer complaints, about half of the more than 2,000 incidents involved vehicles with model years that were not subject to recall, such as Camry models made prior to 2007.
Toyota Blames Floor Mats in Early Recalls
To address problems of SUA, Toyota has issued six separate recalls concerning floor mat interference and sticky accelerator pedals since 2005. Beginning in December 2005, Toyota acknowledged problems with accelerator pedals becoming stuck in the wide open position in Lexus IS 250 models, due to unsecured or incompatible driver’s side floor mats. The company recalled more than 3,500 Lexus IS 250 models in December 2005, and it wasn’t until September 2007 that Toyota issued a recall of 55,000 additional all-weather floor mats in selected Lexus ES 350 and Camry models. A subsequent January 2009 recall of more than 26,000 Sienna models addressed a missing safety clip on driver’s side floor mats. The largest recall came in October 2009 when Toyota recalled 3.8 million vehicles, citing floor mat entrapment issues. An expansion was issued in January 2010, with 1 million additional vehicles affected by the recall.
Toyota proposed to fix floor mat entrapment issues by modifying the accelerator pedal, replacing all-weather floor mats with newly redesigned mats, altering the shape of the floor under the pedal, or replacing the accelerator pedals beginning in April 2010, when the new parts would be shipped to Toyota service centers worldwide.
Additional Recall for Sticky Accelerator Pedals
In January 2010, Toyota announced a recall of 2.3 million vehicles concerning a problem with sticky accelerator pedals in the Avalon, Camry, Corolla, Highlander, Matrix, RAV4, Sequoia, and Tundra, with no relation to the previous recalls’ floor mat issue. A 1-million-vehicle expansion was issued a week later to include the Toyota Venza and the Pontiac Vibe.
Are Toyota’s Electronic System Problems to Blame?
With Toyota’s February 2010 announcement of an electronic system upgrade for a new brake override system on certain recalled Toyota vehicles, investigators and regulators wonder if Toyota will, in fact, acknowledge electronic system problems as a cause of the SUA incidents. The brake override system feature ensures that the engine speed is reduced if the accelerator and the brake pedal are depressed simultaneously.
According to Dave Gilbert, professor of the automotive technology department at Southern Illinois University, there is a flaw in Toyota’s design of the electronic acceleration system that prevents the vehicle’s onboard computer system from detecting and stopping short circuits. Professor Gilbert believes that this defect can result in sudden speed surges that are left uncorrected by the computer system. With his own investigations, Professor Gilbert detected the electronic problem in four separate vehicles, including the Tundra, Avalon, Matrix, and Lexus models. Toyota denies previous knowledge of the problem.
Additional Facts Uncovered by the Toyota Investigation
Recent investigations into Toyota by the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee have revealed internal documents hailing the company’s success at limiting safety recalls in the past, citing $100 million in savings from negotiating a limited recall for the Camry and Lexus ES vehicles involved in 2007 floor mat recalls.