Toyota could pay as much as $1 billion in a pending settlement with the Justice Department that wound end a four-year probe into accusations the carmaker made misleading statements about its safety problems.
The issues relate to allegations of unintended acceleration in Toyota and its upscale brand Lexus in the late 2000s. In 2009, an off-duty California Highway Patrolman and his family were killed when their borrowed Lexus careened off the highway at around 120 mph. The recording of a passenger’s last minute 911 call captured the driver’s frantic efforts to stop the vehicle.
If the settlement is finalized, it would be among the largest fines ever levied against an automaker. It would also allow Toyota to avoid criminal charges.
According to a report in the Wall Street Journal (WSJ), the settlement could be finalized as early at March 20.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) reported in 2010 five people had died as a result of accidents involving claims of unwanted acceleration.
Toyota has repeatedly disputed claims by plaintiffs’ attorneys that its vehicles are defective. It hasn’t admitted wrongdoing in any of the law suits brought against the company involving unintended acceleration.
Toyota has been fined four times totaling $66.2 million by NHTSA for failing to report safety defects to the government. Three of those fines were related to issues concerning unwanted acceleration.
“Toyota has cooperated with the U.S. attorney’s office in this matter for more than four years,” Toyota spokeswoman Julie Hamp told the WSJ. “During that time, we have made fundamental changes to become a more responsive and customer-focused organization, and we are committed to continued improvements.”
The investigation has been headed by the Manhattan offices of the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the U.S. Attorney and it focused on the way Toyota disclosed its safety issues.
Toyota made misleading statements to the government and to the public about those safety issues, the official said.
The NHTSA, however, never found flaws in the electronic throttle-control or control software of the cars in question and determined operator error or floor mats trapping accelerator pedals were involved in most accidents.