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Toyota Lawsuit: Sudden Acceleration Coverup?

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By Tanya Roth, Esq. on October 29, 2010 1:26 PM

Did Toyota know about and try to hide cases of sudden acceleration in their cars? In a situation resembling the "phantom recall" of Motrin performed by Johnson & Johnson, allegations have surfaced that Toyota was aware of sudden acceleration problems for years, but bought the silence of car owners with a buy-back of the car and a confidentiality agreement.

The Los Angeles Times reports a new complaint in the multi-party suit filed in federal court in California alleges the car company was aware of sudden acceleration problems, but worked to keep customers in the dark. The suit cites instances where a car owner complained of an acceleration problem, but that complaint never made it to government officials, let alone the public.

For example, The Times notes an incident in July, 2009. A Toyota dealership approved the buy-back of a Tacoma truck when, during a test-drive, the pick-up accelerated from 71 mph to 95 mph with the driver's foot completely off the pedal. The amended complaint also has a list of 5,264 complaints of unintended acceleration from an internal Toyota company database dating back to 2000.

"The company knew it had a problem, but they didn't know the cause of the problem," Steve Berman, the lead attorney in the civil case, told The Times. "They maintained their silence and tried to cover it up."

The company disagrees. In a statement, Toyota said it "quickly and thoroughly investigates any customer reports of unintended acceleration in its vehicles." Rebutting the claims over the Tacoma example, the car company said that it was unable to duplicate the sudden acceleration experienced at the dealership.

The car company also said it informed the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration of the reported acceleration problems with the vehicles cited in the complaint. The NHTSA says it received a report regarding the Tacoma in December, but it was just one of tens of thousands of reports filed by the automotive industry every quarter.

The Times first reported on this Toyota version of the phantom recall when it wrote last December that Toyota, or some Toyota dealers, quietly purchased some vehicles that were the subject of sudden acceleration complaints by owners.

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