"Sudden Unintended Acceleration" Lawsuits Against Toyota

Millions of Toyota vehicles were recalled over possible "sudden unintended acceleration" problems starting back in 2009, and a wave of lawsuits followed. Is it too late to sue Toyota?

By , J.D., University of San Francisco School of Law

Toyota announced several massive recalls of its cars, vans, and trucks in 2009 and 2010, because of gas pedal and throttle system problems (among other issues) that might cause unintended acceleration in affected vehicles.

In the months and years after the recalls, hundreds of personal injury lawsuits were brought over car accidents linked to the acceleration problem, and a number of class action lawsuits were brought on behalf of owners of recalled vehicles.

Several high-profile settlements and many years later, it's likely too late to file a lawsuit against Toyota over these specific "sudden unintended acceleration" issues, but exceptions may be possible in some situations.

Why Were Toyota Vehicles Recalled?

Since 2009, Toyota has recalled more than 11 million vehicles worldwide in connection with the unintended acceleration problems. Several popular Toyota and Lexus models were affected, including:

  • 2004-2009 Prius
  • 2005-2010 Avalon
  • 2007-2010 Camry
  • 2005-2010 Tacoma
  • 2007-2010 Tundra
  • 2007-2010 Lexus ES350, and
  • 2006-2010 Lexus IS.

Let's look at a few key dates on the Toyota recall timeline.

September 2009. Toyota and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) began receiving complaints about faulty accelerator pedals causing cars to suddenly accelerate. Car accident injuries and fatalities were linked to the problem. Toyota recalled 3.8 million vehicles of various models, stating that the accelerator pedals were getting trapped in floor mats, and devising a fix for the problem.

January 2010. Toyota recalled another 2.3 million vehicles, now stating that problems with an electronic throttle system were causing issues with the accelerator pedals themselves.

January 26, 2010. Toyota suspended sales and production of eight vehicle models until the company could fix the accelerator pedal problem.

January 27, 2010. Toyota widened the accelerator pedal recall, adding another one million vehicles to the recall list.

What If I Never Learned About the Toyota Recall?

Under NHTSA rules, Toyota was obligated to notify all owners of recalled vehicles. If you think you didn't get required notice, even at this late date, you can visit Toyota's Recall Information website (at www.toyota.com/recall) and check the status of all recalls that might apply to your vehicle.

Lawsuits Against Toyota for Faulty Acceleration

Not surprisingly, the massive Toyota recalls spurred thousands of lawsuits nationwide, mostly of two types:

  • lawsuits for personal injury or wrongful death resulting from car accidents linked to the Toyota defects, and
  • class action lawsuits on behalf of vehicle owners who suffered economic losses because of the defects.

Personal Injury and Wrongful Death Lawsuits Against Toyota

Plaintiffs in these kinds of lawsuit claim that Toyota should be liable for injuries and other losses resulting from accidents allegedly caused by the defective accelerator pedal, under the legal theory of "product liability." That means proving that:

  • the Toyota vehicle or a vehicle component (such as the accelerator pedal) had a manufacturing flaw or an unreasonably dangerous design, and
  • the manufacturing defect or dangerous design caused the accident victim's injury or death. Learn more about proving a product liability case.

Toyota has also faced dozens of wrongful death lawsuits—claiming that the sudden acceleration-related crash resulted in a car accident causing someone's death—brought by family members of the deceased person (or a representative of the estate).

Over the years, Toyota has prevailed in court in some of these injury and death-related lawsuits, the plaintiffs have won in others, and several out-of-court settlements have been reached.

Class Action Lawsuits Against Toyota

In the years since the Toyota recalls, multiple class action lawsuits have been filed in both state and federal courts, seeking compensation for Toyota owners who have suffered economic harm, including:

  • decreased vehicle value
  • money and time spent getting their vehicle fixed, and
  • monetary losses stemming from an inability to drive the vehicle for a period of time.

Many of the claims in these class actions were based on alleged violations of vehicle warranties and consumer protection laws.

In July 2013, Toyota reached a $1.6 billion settlement agreement that applied to most of these class action lawsuits, so if you're a vehicle owner who might have suffered economic harm because of the recall, your options are likely limited at this point.

Is It Too Late to Sue Toyota For "Unintended Acceleration"-Related Accidents?

With so much time having passed since the Toyota recalls were announced, if you haven't yet filed a lawsuit over car accident injuries or other harm linked to the problem equipment, it might be too late to do so now. It's crucial to understand how the laws in your state will affect your options. Specifically, a law called a "statute of limitations" sets a limit on how much time can pass between:

  • the occurrence of a wrongful act that harms you, and
  • the starting of the lawsuit process, where you ask a court for a legal remedy for that harm.

There are different statutes of limitations (and different deadlines) depending on the basis for your lawsuit and the legal claims you'll be making, and these deadlines are different from state to state.

For injury-related lawsuits against Toyota, the "clock" might not start ticking until you know (or should reasonably know) that you were harmed by the defective acceleration component. But given that so much time has passed since these high profile recalls, you've probably lost your right to file an injury related lawsuit against Toyota at this point. That's because the statute of limitations for product liability lawsuits is somewhere around two years in many states, and no state has a window longer than six years. Learn more about time limits for filing a product liability lawsuit.

The "Statute of Repose" and Toyota Lawsuits

On top of the statute of limitations deadline for your potential lawsuit against Toyota, a different law called a "statute of repose" might set an over-arching deadline that could bar you from bringing your case if too much time has passed since you first purchased the vehicle. The specifics here depend on the law in your state (not every state will have statute of repose that applies to cases like these), so if you think you still have a lawsuit against Toyota, it's crucial to discuss your situation with a lawyer in your area.

Getting Help With a Lawsuit Against Toyota

If you were injured in a crash because a Toyota accelerated unintentionally, your first legal concern is establishing that you should still have the right to file your lawsuit after so many years have passed since the problems with the vehicles were first reported. Even if it looks like the statute of limitations bars your potential lawsuit, there might be a valid legal argument for extending the lawsuit-filing period. Learn more about finding the right injury lawyer.

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