Toyota Motor Corp. has paid a $10 million California wrongful death settlement to the relatives of California Highway Patrol Officer Mark Saylor, his wife Cloefe Lastrella, their daughter Mahala, and his brother-in-law Christopher Lastrella. The four victims were killed last year in a sudden acceleration accident in a Lexus after the vehicle's accelerator pedal got tangled in the driver's side floor mat.
The parties had settled their California auto products liability lawsuit last September and had sought to keep the terms of their settlement confidential. This week, however, a Superior Court judge denied their request.
In exchange for the settlement, the families, who had claimed that auto defects in the 2009 Lexus ES caused the vehicle to accelerate out of control, consented to drop the California wrongful death lawsuit. The Saylor family's catastrophic car accident brought attention to the issue of sudden unintended acceleration that has affected numerous Toyota vehicles, and many auto products liability and wrongful death complaints have been filed since. In the last 14 months, Toyota, now an automaker under close scrutiny, has recalled millions of vehicles over ill-fitting floor mats, sticky gas pedals, and a number of other safety issues.
Just this week, the US Department of Transportation announced that the automaker has consented to pay another $32.425 million in civil penalties in two separate investigations over its handling of auto recalls. The fine for one case, involving the recall of almost five million vehicles because of accelerator pedals at risk of floor mat entrapment, is $16.375 million. NHTSA determined that Toyota did not follow the law, which obligated the automaker to report this safety defect within five days of discovery. Floor mat entrapment and accelerators that stick are two of the causes of Toyota's sudden unintended acceleration problem.
The second case, for which Toyota will pay a $16.050 million fine, involves the issue of faulty steering relay rods. After recalling vehicles for this issue in Japan in 2004, the automaker told the US that this issue did not affect autos in this country. Yet the following year, Toyota went on to recall almost a million vehicles over the steering relay rod defect. Again, delay in notifying the US government about the safety defect was an issue.
It was just earlier this year that Toyota agreed to pay $16.375 million for failing to inform the NHTSA about the "sticky" gas pedal issue within five days of finding out about it.
Toyota settlement may set bar for sudden-acceleration payouts, Los Angeles Times, December 24, 2010
California Auto Products Liability Settlement Reached in Wrongful Deaths of Saylor Family Due to Toyota Sudden Acceleration, California Injury Lawyers, Blog, September 21, 2010
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