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Thursday, 23 September 2010 16:41

Toyota Settles In Case Over Family Deaths Related to Unintended Acceleration

Toyota has reached an out-of-court settlement with relatives of the Saylor family who were killed when the Lexus sedan they were driving sped out of control and crashed, , according to reports made by the New York Times and the Los Angeles Times. Investigators attributed the accident to a mismatched floormat, which trapped the accelerator pedal, and put an international spotlight on the sudden acceleration concerns that later prompted the automaker to recall millions of vehicles.

Toyota confirmed the settlement September 18 in a statement but did not provide the amount involved or any other details.

“Through mutual respect and cooperation we were able to resolve this matter without the need for litigation,” the statement said.

The crash, which happened in August 2009 in Santee, CA,  was dramatically documentend with cell phone evidence that drew international attention. A backseat passenger called 911 to say that the driver, an off-duty California Highway Patrol officer named Mark Saylor, was unable to stop the 2009 Lexus E350, which went as fast as 120 miles per hour on a freeway before hitting another vehicle, going airborn and landing in a fiery crash in a ravine.

Mark Saylor, 45; his wife, Cleofe, 45; and their 13-year-old daughter Mahala died, along with Cleofe Saylor’s brother, Chris Lastrella, 39. It was Lastrella who told the 911 operator that the car’s pedal was stuck and ended the call by saying, “Hold on and pray.” The car was on loan from the nearby Bob Baker Lexus dealership while Saylor’s car was being repaired.

The settlement has left out co-defendant Bob Baker Lexus, a move by the automaker that could set the stage for a potentially damaging fight with its own dealers over who is to blame for sudden acceleration incidents.

“Toyota has sought to protect only its own interests. They decided to cut out their own dealer,” said Larry Willis, attorney for Bob Baker Lexus.

The settlement, according to Toyota’s statement, resolves product liability claims by the Saylor and Lastrella families against Toyota and the dealership. The families have separate claims against the dealership that were not covered.

Two months after the crash, Toyota began a recall that eventually covered 5.4 million vehicles globally in which the automaker said the driver-side floormat could trap the accelerator pedal.

It later recalled 4.5 million vehicles in which the pedals themselves were determined to be defective. Some vehicles were covered by both recalls, for a total of about eight million vehicles.

In February, Toyota’s chief executive, Akio Toyoda, apologized to Congress and to the Saylor family, saying he would “do everything in my power to ensure such a tragedy never happens again.”

The recalls hurt Toyota’s sales and damaged its reputation for building high-quality, reliable vehicles. Thousands of complaints poured in to federal regulators from drivers who said their Toyota-made vehicles accelerated suddenly. In April, the government fined Toyota a record $16.4 million for waiting too long to initiate a recall. The complaints are tied to at least 93 deaths.

Toyota is continuing to defend itself against class-action lawsuits filed by Toyota owners and relatives of people who died in crashes alleged to have resulted from sudden acceleration. The company could face billions of dollars in liabilities if it loses the cases.

Preliminary results released in August from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s investigation into the sudden-acceleration complaints revealed that in many of the crashes the vehicles’ on-board data recorders showed no evidence that the drivers had used the brakes.

The findings suggest that some drivers were mistakenly pressing on the accelerator pedal instead of the brake.

To read previously published articles on this subject go to www.autobodynews.com, search “Saylor.”

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