Toyota To Pay $10 Million In Crash Settlement, Mats Still To Blame

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2009 Lexus ES 350

2009 Lexus ES 350

Last August Toyota stood before a crested wave of accelerator and floor-mat related recalls, the matter brought to a head by the death of an off-duty California Highway Patrol officer and three members of his family in a dealer-loaned Lexus ES 350. The crash was caused by incorrectly fitted all-weather floor mats, according to investigating police.

Toyota had known about the problem for years, having even issued a similar for floor mats trapping gas pedals recall in 2007. The recall for newer models affected by similar problems--and the then-undiscovered (and possibly still mythical) sticky accelerator pedals--would have to wait until Mark Saylor, his wife Chleofe, his daughter Mahala, and his brother-in-law Chris Lastrella died in a runaway dealer-loaned Lexus ES 350.

Within a month of the accident, Toyota had issued a "voluntary safety advisory" for improperly-fitted floor mats, followed by the infamous "zip-tie fix." Just over two months from the crash, Toyota initiated its full 3.8-million vehicle recall to fix the floor mat issue (the recall would later grow to include 5.4 million vehicles). Brake override systems were installed in new vehicles to counter unintended acceleration. The refrain: the floor mats are to blame for the unintended acceleration. No mention of sticky pedals as yet. In fact, the recall for 2.3 million vehicles affected by the sticking accelerator pedals would wait almost another three months, coming in late January 2010. You've read the rest of the recall story.

We're now over a year out from the accident, and three years from the previous unintended acceleration recall. Mark Saylor's family has received a settlement from Toyota in the lawsuit over their loved ones' deaths, amounting to $10 million. Toyota today issued a response to disclosure of the settlement amount, carefully neglecting to mention the dollar figure--which it fought to keep confidential--directly.

Toyota also takes pains to clarify that Bob Baker Lexus, the dealership that loaned the ill-fated ES 350 and installed its floor mats, is still fighting its own suits brought by family members of the deceased: "Mr. Baker now wants the amount publicized in an apparent effort to shift the focus away from his dealership as he continues to litigate this case with the families," the company wrote in its response.

The refrain, once again: blame the floor mats. Toyota sets out a three-bullet list of highlights from the police report about the accident, all pointing toward the mats as the problem and improper dealer installation as the cause. The point is a fair one: outside of a rigged TV stunt, there has been no solid evidence to suggest the accelerator pedal or its electronics are to blame in the known cases of unintended acceleration, and ample evidence that driver error is actually to blame.

Toyota has spent the entirety of 2010 either dealing with these issues or struggling to rise above them, and appears to have turned the corner in recent months, regaining consideration from buyers and reviving stagnated sales. Or so it seemed. These are Toyota's closing remarks in its response to the settlement disclosure:

"Our deepest sympathies remain with the friends and family of Mark, Cleofe and Mahala Saylor and Cleofe’s brother Chris Lastrella. However, as in the past, Toyota will continue to defend itself vigorously against the misleading allegations Bob Baker Lexus is making against Toyota."

The saga continues.
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Comments (7)
  1. I ponder if mats are to blame as part of the settlement ...

  2. My condolences to the family, but 3rd-parties have repeatedly demonstrated that you can FLOOR Lexuses and Camrys at 60 MPH and still haul them down to a COMPLETE stop in a reasonable distance (like 150% of normal). Then there's always the NEUTRAL gear selection in the transmission. Perhaps Joe Numbnuts might get brain paralysis under the circumstances, but a we're told CHP officers are "highly trained." Something doesn't add up here...

  3. Condolences to the family and yes, even though he was a CHP officer and highly trained, the truth is that you never know how you will react in such a critical situation, when you only have mere seconds to react. It's easy to judge but I'm sure it must be terrifying to have the accelerator stuck and going 100 mph. Even highly trained CHP officers can panic and not even think about shifting into Neutral. It's much easier to think of that option when reading an article and safely behind a keyboard.

  4. Yeah, rooter, this case is the "1947 Roswell UFO" automotive case of all time. It just doesn't make sense, perhaps the layman on the street wouldn't think to put the Lexus sedan's gearshift into neutral, or wouldn't hit the "STOP" button to the sedan's motor, evidently this model of 2009 Lexus ES 350 sedan has the new pushbutton start-stop feature. That could easily be overlooked in a panic, but most of us would think of trying to put the transmission in to neutral, automatic tranny or manual. It just doesn't make sense. That has led many of us to think out loud during online car website discussions of this crash that Mr.Saylor may have had trouble getting the gearknob to move into neutral, or he didn't think of doing it. We will probably never know. So, like the little aliens at Roswell, NM, on July 4, 1947, it may just very well remain a mystery forever as to what happened. In San Diego, CA, of course, that is!

  5. It's also easier to think of an option when it's happened to you before. I was just your average 20-year old, dope-smokin' college student at the time--and I did have the accelerator in my built '77 Mazda RX-3 (5 sec 0-60, 13.7 1/4 mi) get stuck wide-open by the floor mat on one occasion. I was able to free the pedal with my foot with the engine screaming against the rev-limiter on a curved freeway on-ramp. I then proceeded to merge with freeway traffic. Suing someone never crossed my mind--boy did I miss out!

  6. The throttle cable in my 95 Ford Ranger suddenly got stuck some years ago when I was driving. My foot wasn't even on the gas pedal, yet the engine was racing and the vehicle wouldn't stop. So I just threw out the clutch and took the key out of the ignition. Later, I got the thing to Jiffy-Lube and the guy opened the hood and sprayed WD-40 on the
    throttle cable to loosen it up. That night, I put some DuraLube of my own just to make sure. Cops are trained to react in limited types of situations, like when dealing with a suspect. This guy didn't have much imagination.

  7. Good point, godismyshadow. He panicked so large that he couldn't think of anything else to do but try and steer away from traffic and hard, non-movable objects. Toyota has been put through the ringer because of this incident and it was all because some dork at Bob Baker Lexus of SD, CA, put floor mats from a Lexus SUV in the Lexus ES 350 sedan on top of the car's regular floor mats. Difficult and tragic, terrible case to deal with.

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