Two objectors to the $1.1 billion settlement for unintended sudden accelerations in some Toyota Motor Corp. vehicles have dropped their opposition. This is one step closer to a payout in the settlement. Dropping the opposition was in exchange for $1.5 million that will go to auto safety groups. Objectors Allen Roger Snyder and Linton Stone Weeks had argued to the Ninth Circuit that at least $15 million of the $30 million cy pres portion of the settlement would go to “driver education” marketing campaigns, an inappropriate expenditure that reflected Toyota’s argument that driver error was to blame for vehicle problems.
An agreement reached between the objectors and the other Plaintiffs calls for $750,000 to go to the Automotive Safety Research Institute (ASRI), with another $750,000 going to the Center for Advanced Life Cycle Engineering (CALCE) at the University of Maryland. The objectors agreed to withdraw their objections for those changes.
The ASRI and CALCE will provide research reports to Plaintiffs’ class counsel upon completion of the research program. The distribution of $500 million in cash to class members should now begin. The money used to resolve that objection is going to safety research, which is a good cause. Clarence Ditlow, executive director of the Center for Auto Safety, which supported Snyder and Weeks’ objections, says that he is glad the class counsel agreed to fund research into vehicle electronics and safety systems that could pinpoint the vehicle causes of unintended acceleration. He said:
The $30 million Toyota-funded driver education and safety research fund contained not one dollar for research into vehicle causes of unintended acceleration, the subject of the class action. Unlike other objectors who insisted on confidentiality on what they got in exchange for withdrawing their appeals, the Snyder objectors insisted their withdrawal agreement be filed with the court for everyone to see.
Toyota agreed last year to pay an estimated $1.1 billion to settle claims that the sudden acceleration defect hurt the vehicles’ value. Toyota issued recalls of millions of its cars and trucks in 2009 and 2010 after reports that several vehicles experienced sudden unintended accelerations. The economic loss agreement, which included a proposed class of roughly 23 million customers, received final approval in July.
The settlement calls for $757 million in cash as well as $875 million in “nonmonetary benefits,” including getting brake override installation in cars that merit it. The settlement also calls for Toyota to pay $227 million in fees and costs to the Plaintiffs’ counsel and to install a brake-override system in certain recalled vehicles. As we reported in the December issue, Toyota entered into settlement negotiations with hundreds of consumers who had personal injury, wrongful death and property damage claims related to the sudden unintended acceleration defect in the automaker’s vehicles. That process is now underway.
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