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Toyota Knew of Sudden Acceleration, Lawyers Claim

“Toyota technicians” confirmed that vehicles were unexpectedly accelerating and the company bought back the vehicles, had customers sign confidentiality agreements and didn’t disclose the problems to regulators, plaintiffs’ lawyers said in court documents.

In testimony about acceleration defects before Congress, Toyota Motor Corp. didn’t disclose that the technicians had replicated instances of sudden unintended acceleration not caused by pedals or mats, according to documents filed yesterday in federal court in Santa Ana, California. The company also didn’t report the customer agreements to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, the plaintiffs’ lawyers said.

Steven Curtis, a spokesman for Toyota’s U.S. sales arm in Torrance, California, said today in an e-mail that no technicians for the company or field specialists confirmed unintended acceleration in vehicles. He said the plaintiffs’ lawyers are referring to service technicians employed by dealerships, which are independent businesses.

As for Toyota Motor Corp. and its representatives, such as field technical specialists or engineers, “We have not replicated the customers’ acceleration concerns nor found any issues or conditions in these vehicles while driving or analyzing them for thousands of miles,” Curtis said.

Company Agents

The dealer technicians are agents of the company, said Steve Berman, co-lead attorney for plaintiffs in the case. Toyota knew of problems related to sudden acceleration as early as 2003 and failed to disclose that the cars could be unsafe, according to the consolidated class-action lawsuit. The company has said the claims are based on anecdotes and fail to identify any specific defects in the vehicles.

The revised complaint against Toyota adds allegations that “Toyota technicians” replicated acceleration events in testing and reported the results to the company, said Berman’s law firm, Seattle-based Hagens Berman Sobol Shapiro LLP, in an e-mailed statement.

“To further conceal the defect Toyota required as a condition of the vehicle repurchase that the owner sign a confidentiality agreement and agree not to sue,” according to the 725-page complaint, which refers to sudden unintended acceleration as SUA events. “This confirmation of a clear SUA event not reported to the NHTSA and was concealed.”

Vehicles Repurchased

Toyota field specialists responded to reports of two acceleration events that dealer technicians reportedly observed and “were unable to duplicate the condition,” find any related issues or conditions, and the vehicles were repurchased for further analysis, said Brian Lyons, a Toyota spokesman, in an e-mailed statement today. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration was informed three times of the two vehicle reports, Lyons said.

In February, the company assembled a list of reports detailing the circumstances of 29 deaths related to sudden- acceleration problems, according to the complaint. Toyota ordered employees to remove names of executives from acceleration related e-mails and to stop using specific acceleration terms in e-mails to prevent damage to the company in litigation, lawyers for car owners said in the complaint.

Toyota, the world’s largest carmaker, faces more than 300 lawsuits in state and federal courts over alleged sudden acceleration of its vehicles. The company recalled 8 million vehicles in the past year for defects linked to unintended acceleration.

The case is In re: Toyota Motor Corp. Unintended Acceleration Litigation, 10-MDL-2151, U.S. District Court, Central District of California (Santa Ana).

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