As a southern Illinois auto accident attorney, I was very interested in a recent story in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch about Toyota’s alleged attempts to intimidate a Southern Illinois University automotive technology professor and suppress his research into Toyota’s runaway acceleration problems. Toyota has donated cars as well as money to SIU, and the company may have used its standing to pressure SIU administrators to stop Professor David Gilbert from publicizing his worrisome findings. Knowing how many people have been hurt and how many more are afraid that their cars might suddenly accelerate, these allegations would be unfortunate, if proven, both for the safety of the driving public and for Toyota’s own financial security.
In January, Gilbert discovered that he could cause runaway acceleration in a Toyota Avalon by manipulating its electronics. When he did so, the car’s computer did not switch over to a fail-safe mode that would allow the brake to override the gas, as it should have. Gilbert went to Toyota with his findings, but after hearing what he had to say, they never got back to him. Gilbert felt he couldn’t stay silent, the article said, so he took his findings to the government and media. In response, Toyota sent some attorneys to meet with Gilbert and university officials about his testimony before Congress, a meeting that Gilbert said “was meant to maybe intimidate me.” Toyota also assembled its own group of experts to refute Gilbert’s findings, saying that the conditions under which he produced the runaway acceleration could never happen on an actual road. SIU’s then-chancellor Sam Goldman also received an email from a man who said he was an SIU alumnus and a Toyota Motor Sales employee, complaining that Gilbert should be fired for making what he called false accusations about Toyota, and reminding him of his and Toyota’s financial and in-kind contributions to the university. University officials apparently did their best to assuage Toyota and maintain the relationship.
In my view as a St. Louis car crash lawyer, it would be much better for the company to work with someone who could discover solutions to the runaway acceleration problem than to try to cover it up. If the allegations are proven, Toyota’s alleged treatment of Gilbert and his work could actually hurt the company’s public relations and its financial bottom line. Evidence that Toyota passed up an opportunity to work on a potential fix for a serious problem could make the company look bad in all the lawsuits it’s already facing over runaway acceleration. Not only is there evidence that Toyota had received over 2,000 complaints over the last decade and knew about the pedal problem three years ago, but Gilbert’s story suggests that Toyota was more interested in denying any problem than fixing it. Unfortunately for Toyota, its customers may have a strong basis for a legal claim that it failed to warn drivers about the problem in a timely manner, in addition to a possible claim about a design defect. And if the automaker is found liable, it could be forced to pay its customers billions of dollars because of the seriousness of the claims and the huge number of affected vehicles.
Carey, Danis & Lowe represents victims of serious auto accidents caused by someone else’s negligence, such as automakers who knowingly refused to solve serious safety problems, warn customers or take swift action on safety problems for fear of harming profits. All manufacturers in Illinois and Missouri are legally required to let the public know about any unavoidable safety problems with their products. Our Missouri car wreck attorneys have years of experience litigating against manufacturers who have failed in that duty. We have helped hundreds of clients recover the money they need for medical care, allowing them to make ends meet and be fairly compensated after a catastrophic injury or wrongful death.If you or someone you love has been hurt in a car crash caused by defective cars or parts, don’t hesitate to contact Carey, Danis & Lowe for help. To tell us your story and learn more, you can send us a message online or call 1-877-678-3400 today.