Plaintiffs, in a lawsuit filed in California federal court, are attempting to certify a nationwide class of former and current owners of the 2009 and 2010 model year Corolla based on the electric power steering (EPS) system. In October 2012, two Toyota Corolla owners, Irene Corson of New York and Susan Yacks of Pennsylvania, filed suit. The Corolla owners alleged the steering system’s defect caused the vehicles to drift out of the driver’s control, which they said was a safety problem that Toyota was aware of and did not remedy. It was alleged further in the lawsuit that the defect caused the driver to spin out of control on a highway sending her into oncoming traffic before coming to a rest on an embankment, according to the complaint. The Plaintiffs allege the defect was significant and widespread, and requested that the class should be certified.
Toyota, which is still in the news for a vast recall due to defective air bags, argued the Plaintiffs should not be allowed nationwide class certification, claiming that the vehicles share no common problem. Instead of the defect being significant and widespread, Toyota contended that only a small number of Corolla owners reported any steering concerns. The automaker said those concerns related to the individuals’ preferences such as “steering feel” and “tire conditions.” Toyota said its own review of the reports found no steering problems.
In February 2010, The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) opened an investigation into the EPS system in the Toyota Corolla and Matrix models. NHTSA says it found related consumer complaints dealt with operational issues, not failure of the steering elements. Therefore, the agency closed the investigation in May 2011 without taking action. After the conclusion of NHTSA’s investigation, Toyota issued a technical service bulletin offering to make changes to the steering systems. But the Plaintiffs contend the notice was not adequately disseminated to consumers and was arbitrarily applied.
Toyota filed a motion in March 2013 to dismiss the complaints saying they lacked specificity. Judge Bernal agreed with the Defendants and dismissed the claims relating to the technical service bulletin because the Plaintiffs failed to show the bulletin extended a warranty to all consumers and represented an adjustment program. But, on the other hand, Judge Bernal agreed with the Plaintiffs that Toyota had withheld information about the steering defects. He said withholding that information would have deterred the Plaintiffs from purchasing the vehicles had it been released and ultimately the lack of that information caused harm.
Not only did Toyota withhold essential safety-related information, but it also actively concealed the steering defects. Judge Bernal stated that because consumers had complained about steering defects, the automaker knew about the problem, but failed to make a repair procedure known to all affected customers or dealers. The individual dealers denied the problem existed.
For more information on this subject, you can contact Cole Portis, who heads up the firm’s Product Liability Section, at 800-898-2034 or by email at Cole.Portis@BeasleyAllen.com.
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