Toyota has asked a federal judge in Southern California to toss out hundreds of lawsuits that allege sudden acceleration problems in its cars, saying they are not based on fact. The motion comes the same week, however, that the automaker conceded that there had been a bug in the software used to read crash data from the "black boxes" in its vehicles.
More than 300 "sudden acceleration" lawsuits against the company have been consolidated for pretrial rulings in the US District Court in Santa Ana, south of Los Angeles. The lawsuits allege personal injury, damages and death due to incidents in which Toyotas accelerated out of control, and say that the resale value of Toyotas has fallen because of alleged product defects.
In its filing, the automaker said that plaintiffs' claims were "based on unsubstantiated circumstantial evidence." A hearing on the motion to dismiss the suits is set for November.
Toyota has recalled millions of vehicles to address conditions that it says may have caused episodes of apparent sudden acceleration. It has fixed "sticky" gas pedals and ill-fitting floormats. The company has denied, however, that there are problems with its electronic throttle, as some critics have charged, and has instead blamed other instances of so-called "runaway Toyotas" on driver error.
Toyota restated its position on electronic throttles when it filed the motion to dismiss the lawsuits. "Plaintiffs' lawsuit is based on the claim that there is a defect in Toyota's Electronic Throttle Control System that causes unintended acceleration," said the company in a statement. "However even after months of intense publicity and multiple scientific investigations, the plaintiffs have neither cited nor identified any specific defect in Toyota's Electronic Throttle Control System."
Investigations by both Toyota and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration have found no evidence that electrical defects caused sudden acceleration incidents in Toyotas. NHTSA reported in August that it had examined 58 black boxes, or event data recorders (EDRs), from Toyotas involved in crashes and that they did not show any safety problem. Thirty-five of the EDRs indicated that brakes were not being used just prior to impact.
According to the Los Angeles Times, however, Toyota has now said that a faulty reader for black box data created inaccurate data. In April, the reader mistakenly calculated the speed of a Toyota truck at impact at 177 miles per hour.
Toyota spokesman Mike Michels said that Toyota vehicles may use EDRs from one of three different suppliers, and that the problem only applied to reading the data from one type of EDR. "A rare software anomaly was discovered," said Toyota spokesman Mike Michels, "involving interpretation of the raw data provided for post-crash change of velocity for one supplier's EDR." Michels said that post-crash velocity was "the only parameter affected," and that pre-crash data, including information about use of the accelerator and the brake, "has always been reliable."
Michels said the new software had "been deployed for all download tools in the field and was provided to NHTSA." NHTSA told the Los Angeles Times that it had run all the EDR information from its review of crashed Toyota vehicles through the corrected software.
Prior to this spring, when Toyota shipped 150 new readers, there was only one Toyota EDR reader in the US, and only Toyota had access to it.