By now, many people have heard about Toyota’s recall of 3.8 million vehicles to replace defective floor mats, which jammed into the accelerator of a Toyota vehicle, causing Troy Johnson to die in a car crash. The story that unfortunately has been overlooked, is what prompted Toyota to issue its largest recall ever in the United States.
The answer is the risk of liability in future personal injury and product liability lawsuits. Without the right to file such a lawsuit against individuals and corporations such as Toyota for manufacturing and distributing dangerous products that put people’s lives in danger, those individuals and corporations would have no “business” incentive to make safer products.
This week, Toyota disclosed to the United States government that it is sending mail to owners of several Toyota vehicles, including the Camry, Prius hybrid, and other models, requesting that they remove floor mats on the driver’s side, and to not replace them. Toyota said that the gas pedal may get stuck when the floor mat is unsecured or incompatible, causing the car to accelerate at high speeds, making it difficult to stop, and potentially causing the driver and passengers to be seriously injured or killed in a car crash.
Melodie Bohuchot, the widow of Troy Johnson, told the Associated Press yesterday that she wants Toyota to “fix the problem now. Don’t wait.” She asked a rhetorical question which goes to the heart of the decision to recall a vehicle, “How many people have to die before they take this seriously?”
The answer for Toyota, it appears, is five. Mr. Johnson was killed in a car crash on July 26, 2007, when his car was hit from behind on a highway by a 2007 Toyota Camry, whose accelerator had allegedly become jammed by the defective floor mat. The Camry was speeding at nearly 120 mph and slammed into Mr. Johnson’s vehicle, killing him instantly, after his car burst into flames. Toyota reached a product liability and personal injury settlement with Mr. Johnson’s widow in 2008. Apparently, one death was not sufficient to prompt a recall.
In August 2009, four more people were killed in a similar high-speed accident caused by the defective floor mat. This time, a father, his wife, his brother-in-law, and his 13-year-old daughter were killed in a car crash. It was only after this accident that Toyota began initiating a recall. Hopefully, the family of these four family members will retain, if they have not done so already, an experienced personal injury and product liability lawyer to represent their interests. No doubt, the civil liability exposure is what prompted Toyota to consider a recall.
Maybe Toyota should have initiated a recall after Mr. Johnson was killed in the car crash caused by the defective floor mat? Maybe not? Only Toyota — their engineers, their executives, their researchers, their lawyers have that answer. The bottom line, though, is Toyota’s realization of substantial civil liability exposure from future accidents caused by their defective floor mats caused them to make this recall.
As a Chicago personal injury lawyer, I am proud to represent those whose voices would otherwise go unheard, and to play an integral role in making individuals and corporations act safely and manufacture and distribute safe products. Hopefully, Toyota will be able to notify most, if not all, of the 3.8 million American car owners of the recall, and prevent another person from being seriously injured or killed in a car crash caused by the defective floor mat.
For a free consultation with one of our Chicago personal injury and product liability lawyers, call Passen & Powell at (312) 527-4500.