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Attorney: Toyota Findings Won’t Stop Lawsuits

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(Getty Images)

(Getty Images)

SANTA ANA (CBS) — An attorney involved in lawsuits against Toyota over alleged runaway vehicles says he disputes the findings of a federal report that exonerates the firm from any links between its electronic throttle-control systems and sudden-acceleration issues.

The U.S. Department of Transportation announced Tuesday that sticky accelerator pedals and poorly fitted floor mats were the only known cause of the runaway vehicles — a finding that mirrors the claim made by Toyota since the problem was first reported.

“We enlisted the best and brightest engineers to study Toyota’s electronics systems, and the verdict is in. There is no electronic-based cause for unintended high-speed acceleration in Toyotas,” U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said.

KNX 1070′s Tom Reopelle reports local Toyota officials lauded the new findings from NASA engineers, who conducted the study at the request of Congress.


But Steven W. Berman, one of the attorneys leading the class-action federal lawsuits pending before U.S. District Judge James Selna in Santa Ana, says the report’s findings are flawed.

“It doesn’t look to us like NASA looked really hard at the evidence,” Berman said. “As far as we could tell there are thousands of complaints out there from very credible people. Some of our plaintiffs in the case are police officers who didn’t have a sticky pedal or floor mat problem. Obviously they can drive cars, so how do they account for that?”

Berman said the engineers also didn’t “account for the fact that we continue to see runaway events post-recall. People have had their cars fixed — the pedals and mats — and NHTSA (the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration) is still getting complaints.”

Berman doubted the federal government’s report would hurt the federal lawsuits.

“I don’t think the report ends this matter one bit,” Berman said.

Berman noted that despite the conclusion the problems were not related to electronic issues, NHTSA officials were still considering a proposal to require brake-override systems in vehicles.

One of the main claims in the federal lawsuits is that Toyota officials knew there was a problem with the electronic throttle-control systems and did not install brake overrides like their competitors.

The first electronic throttle-control systems were installed in 1998 in Lexus models and in all Toyota models by 2006.

“Toyota knew no later than 2002 that these fail-safes (in the system) were insufficient to prevent unintended acceleration events in its vehicles and that additional fail-safes were necessary,” the lawsuit alleges.

The attorneys suing Toyota claim officials recognized the problem with the sudden acceleration in 2007, but ignored suggestions they use fail-safe systems that would override the accelerator that other companies were using until this year.

But according to the federal study released today, NASA engineers analyzed more than 280,000 lines of software code that could lead to runaway vehicles and concluded there were no malfunctions in the electronic systems that caused the sudden acceleration issues.

Toyota has paid $48.8 million in civil penalties related to the recall of 8 million vehicles in 2009 and last year.

Toyota officials said the government’s findings should help improve consumers’ trust in the Torrance-based company’s vehicles.

(©2010 CBS Local Media, a division of CBS Radio Inc. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. Wire services contributed to this report.)

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