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Toyota is sued over concerns of sudden acceleration

A lawsuit filed Thursday by two Los Angeles County residents claims that the majority of Toyota and Lexus vehicles made since 2001 contain defective components that can cause unintended acceleration.

November 07, 2009|Ken Bensinger and Ralph Vartabedian

Two Los Angeles County residents have sued Toyota Motor Corp., alleging that the majority of Toyota and Lexus vehicles made since 2001 contain defective components that can cause unintended acceleration.

The lawsuit, filed Thursday in Riverside County Superior Court, is the latest in a growing string of suits against the automaker over concerns of runaway acceleration.

The plaintiffs, Seong Bae Choi and Chris Chan Park, seek statewide and national class-action status, arguing that "hundreds of thousands" of individuals could be affected by sudden acceleration caused by defective electronic throttle systems.

"There is a problem here, obviously," said David Wright, the Redlands-based attorney for the plaintiffs. "We're asking Toyota to get it taken care of now."

Toyota spokesman John Hanson declined to comment on the suit, saying it was company policy not to comment on litigation.

The automaker is recalling 3.8 million Toyota and Lexus vehicles following an August crash of a Lexus sedan that accelerated out of control outside of San Diego. An off-duty California Highway Patrolman and three members of his family were killed.

The Japanese automaker has said that it believes improperly installed floor mats caused that accident and others like it by entrapping the accelerator pedal. It has asked drivers to remove their driver-side floor mats until a fix can be determined.

Toyota has repeatedly denied the possibility that any other systems could cause such a problem and reiterated that position in a blog item posted on its website Friday.

Nonetheless, the accident and subsequent recall have drawn national attention and, this week, prompted federal highway safety regulators to issue a statement indicating that the seven recalled Toyota models do indeed have an "underlying defect."

At least five other lawsuits filed against Toyota in the last few years have alleged a defect causing unintended acceleration. One, involving a runaway 2007 Toyota Camry that crashed and killed a man near San Jose, was settled out of court for an undisclosed sum.

The latest suit alleges that the two men experienced repeated incidents of unintended acceleration in their vehicles, a 2008 Toyota FJ Cruiser and a 2004 Toyota Camry. No allegations of crashes or injury were made. Neither vehicle is included in the current recall.

According to Wright, their lawyer, Toyota began installing fully electronic throttle systems in its cars in 2001. He said the vast majority of its vehicles use them today. He said that a software fix that automatically puts the engine into idle while braking could potentially resolve the issue.

Some automakers, such as BMW, use the software safety feature.

Wright said that the class-action status, if approved, would exclude cases in which individuals were injured or killed by alleged unintended acceleration because those cases are typically handled on an individual basis.

Last week, Toyota began sending recall letters to owners of 2007 to 2010 Camrys, 2004 to 2009 Priuses, 2005 to 2010 Avalons, 2005 to 2010 Tacomas, 2007 to 2010 Tundras, 2007 to 2010 Lexus ES 350s, and 2006 to 2010 Lexus IS 250s and IS 350s.

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ken.bensinger@latimes.com

ralph.vartabedian@latimes.com

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