Most people know that there are some risks associated with traveling in motor vehicles, and they take precautions to try to prevent accidents. However, no matter how cautious a driver is, if there is a defect in the car itself an accident may be unavoidable – which is why automakers have a responsibility to recall defective vehicles and are liable for injuries that occur from defective vehicles. In December 2012, Toyota Motor Corp. incurred a huge fine for failing to live up to its duties to report known vehicle defects.
Law requires reporting safety defects
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration announced on December 18, 2012 that it would levy a fine of $17.35 million on Toyota Motor Corp. for violating federal laws regarding reporting defects. Auto manufacturers have an obligation to report to the NTHSA within five business days of the time the company becomes aware that a vehicle has a defect or is not in compliance with federal safety standards. The manufacturer must then issue a recall. The fine that Toyota will pay is the highest allowed under law, and it is the largest civil penalty any manufacturer has ever paid to the NHTSA for a single violation.
NHTSA officials said that in early 2012 its Office of Defects Investigation began receiving reports through its Vehicle Owner Questionnaires that the floor mats in the 2010 Lexus RX 350 were trapping the accelerators, causing unwanted acceleration. In May of that year the NHTSA contacted Toyota about the matter, and in June the company admitted that it had knowledge of 63 instances of floor mats trapping accelerator pedals in the Lexus RX 350 since 2009. Toyota also informed the NHTSA that it would issue a recall for all model year 2010 RX 350 and RX 450h vehicles to fix the problem.
Toyota had previously paid $48.8 million in 2010 for fines resulting from the fines based upon the results of three separate investigations into safety issues in the company’s vehicles.
Auto manufacturer liability
In general, auto manufacturers are liable for injuries that result from motor vehicle accidents attributable to a defect in the vehicle. Vehicles can be defective in one of two ways:
- Manufacturing: A manufacturing defect is when some part of the car is not manufactured in accordance with the approved design of the vehicle, causing the auto to be unsafe.
- Design: A design defect is when the design of the vehicle itself poses a safety risk.
A variety of parts of a vehicle can have defects, including tires, airbags, and seatbelts.
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