Toyota Motor Corp. has settled what is widely regarded as the most serious lawsuit of the hundreds of claims the automaker faces.
The company has agreed to settle the suit brought by relatives of four family members killed in a high-speed crash near San Diego that galvanized attention around safety flaws of the company’s vehicles and led to the recalls of millions of cars, the Los Angeles Times said.
The August 2009 crash killed California Highway Patrol officer Mark Saylor, 45, along with his wife, Cleofe, 45, their daughter Mahala, 13, and Cleofe’s brother Chris Lastrella, 39.
Their car — a Toyota-made sedan borrowed from a local Lexus dealership — reached speeds of more than 120 mph on a southern California freeway, hit a sport utility vehicle, launched off an embankment, rolled several times and burst into flames.
Investigators found that a wrong-sized floor mat that trapped the accelerator was to blame. Shortly after the crash, Toyota recalled millions of cars to replace floor mats that it said could cause the accelerator to jam. The carmaker later recalled millions more vehicles to replace gas pedals that it said could stick.
In a letter to a Santa Ana Superior Court judge, Toyota revealed the settlement with the plaintiffs who include the parents of the three adult victims. The company gave no details about the terms and wants to keep them confidential, the Times said.
The Times said Toyota is expected to file motions with the judge disclosing the settlement Monday. Court filings indicate the two parties reached a settlement in June.
Tim Pestotnik, an attorney for the plaintiffs, declined comment when reached by the Times.
The company faces other lawsuits stemming from sudden acceleration in several Toyota and Lexus models, and brake glitches with the company’s Prius hybrid.
On Tuesday the automaker moved to dismiss the federal lawsuits that have been consolidated under a judge in Santa Ana.
“Until they got rid of this case, it was going to be something everyone pointed at Toyota for,” said Don Slavik, an attorney in several of the other lawsuits. “Now they’re going to argue this was the dealer’s fault alone and their cars aren’t defective.”
The settlement left out co-defendant Bob Baker Lexus, the dealer that loaned the family the car.
“Toyota has sought to protect only its own interests. They decided to cut out their own dealer,” Larry Willis, attorney for Bob Baker Lexus, told the Times. Willis said the lawsuit against the dealer had not been dropped.
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