Not surprisingly, the massive Toyota recalls spurred hundreds of lawsuits nationwide. The lawsuits typically fall into two categories:
So far, over three hundred lawsuits have been filed in both state and federal courts, and that number is likely to increase.
Many Toyota owners and passengers claim they've been injured in crashes caused by Toyota's defective accelerator pedal. Typically, these individuals bring a personal injury lawsuit in state court, including defective product liability claims.
To prove a defective product claim, the plaintiff (the person bringing the lawsuit) must demonstrate that:
In the Toyota cases, the second element -- whether the accelerator pedal was defective -- is likely to be a foregone conclusion. In most cases, the litigation will revolve around the first and third elements. That is, did the accelerator pedal cause the accident and, if so, was the plaintiff's injury a result of the accident?
Depending on the particular circumstances of a case, Toyota might argue that some other factor caused or contributed to the crash (for example, the driver was drunk or speeding, or another car crashed into the vehicle) or that the injury was not a consequence of the crash (for example, that plaintiff's back pain existed prior to the crash). (To learn more about the elements and defenses in product liability lawsuits, see Nolo's article Product Liability Claims Involving Defective Cars.)
If the crash resulted in an individual's death, plaintiffs may bring a personal injury lawsuit for wrongful death. In a wrongful death claim, a representative (usually the executor of the decedent's estate) brings a lawsuit on behalf of the decedent's survivors alleging that the death was caused by the legal fault of another -- in this case, Toyota. (To learn more about wrongful death actions, including who may bring an action, what damages are available, and applicable time limits for filing, see Nolo's article Wrongful Death Claims: An Overview.)
Since the Toyota recalls, nearly 200 class action lawsuits have been filed in both state and federal courts. For the most part, the class action lawsuits seek compensation for Toyota owners who have suffered economic losses due to the recall. Those losses include:
The lawsuits allege that Toyota violated various warranty laws, state consumer protection laws, and other common laws. The legal claims revolve around the allegation that defects in the vehicles caused "sudden unintended acceleration."
A number of the class action lawsuits around the country have been consolidated into one large lawsuit, called the Multi-District Litigation (MDL). The Toyota MDL is being litigated in a federal district court in central California. (To learn more about Multi-District Litigation, see Nolo's article Multidistrict Litigation (MDL) in Drug Lawsuits and Other Cases.)
The MDL plaintiffs allege that Toyota's electronic throttle system caused "sudden unintended acceleration" in the vehicles and that Toyota should have used (but didn't) a failsafe measure along with the electronic system. Plaintiffs argue that Toyota knew about the problem (because of numerous consumer complaints and reports of injuries and deaths), but continued to manufacture, market, and sell the vehicles. The defect and recall, plaintiffs argue, have caused the value of their vehicles to decline.
If you were injured in a crash because a Toyota accelerated unintentionally, or if you are a Toyota owner and suffered economic damages because of the Toyota recall, you may be able to bring a lawsuit against Toyota or join an existing class action. (To learn more about joining a class action lawsuit, see Nolo's article Product Liability Claims Involving Defective Cars.)
The legal and mechanical issues in defective car cases are typically complex and highly technical. If you wish to consult with a lawyer (perhaps one who specializes in product liability law), read Nolo's article Finding a Personal Injury Lawyer. Or go to Nolo's Lawyer Directory for a list of personal injury attorneys in your geographical area.
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