[UPDATED:] DA Sues Toyota

UPDATE: The Orange County District Attorney's Office this morning stepped up pressure on Toyota, unveiling a consumer complaint hotline, an online complaint form and access to its first civil complaint against the automaker (details after the jump) . . .
prius_elizabeth-james.jpg
Courtesy of Elizabeth James
This is where Elizabeth James' wild Prius ride ended.
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"We need to make sure that we protect Orange County citizens from unfair business practices," District Attorney Tony Rackauckas said Friday morning in announcing a lawsuit against Toyota Motor Sales, U.S.A., Inc. "We need to make sure that when Toyota says 'Oh what a feeling' and 'Moving Forward,' they are talking about great cars."

This morning, his office directed citizens and consumers wishing to leave a comment on the OCDA lawsuit against the automaker to call (714) 347-0515.

A "Toyota Sudden Acceleration Form" complaint form for drivers of Toyota and Lexus models is available on the home page of the OCDA website.

That's also where you'll find a full copy of the civil complaint the OCDA filed against Toyota, under "Media Center."

Here are Rackauckas' full remarks Friday morning:

It's good to see you again.

Like all of you, I have been reading one headline after another, watching one television story after another, about run away Toyotas and sudden acceleration problems. Texas, San Diego, New York - new day, new place. 

I know that the federal government, through the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration, or "NHTSA," has been trying to solve this problem for several years to no avail; Congress has begun their inquiry into the matter.

As these cases continue to pile up, I became increasingly uneasy, knowing that many thousands of California consumers have purchased defective Toyota vehicles.  I became increasingly concerned that Orange County consumers may be purchasing many more Toyotas without knowing the full facts.

I feel it is the duty of the Orange County District Attorney's Office to protect the public and our consumers from unlawful, unfair, and fraudulent business practices.  I feel it is our duty to make sure Toyota is not gaining an unfair business advantage over other car companies who are not doing what Toyota is doing. 

We demand to know - did Toyota, in their relentless quest to become the number one car maker in the United States, put profits over people? The People of the State of California and citizens of Orange County have the right to know. Toyota drivers have the right to know. Other drivers sharing the road with Toyotas have the right to know.  Other carmakers that follow the law have the right to know. 

The family of the late California Highway Patrol Officer Mark Saylor has the right to know.   

This morning, the Orange County District Attorney's Office with the assistance of the Robinson, Calganie & Robinson law firm filed an unfair business practices lawsuit in Orange County Superior Court.  This is the first lawsuit in the nation to bring a consumer protection lawsuit against Toyota. 

I am proud to get the assistance of Robinson, Calcagnie & Robinson law firm.  As you know, the Orange County District Attorney's Office has a long standing tradition of partnering with private entities for the benefit of the People. For example, we have a program called Trial Attorney Partnership and the Reserve District Attorney program where experienced attorneys volunteer as.  Since 2003, we have had over 80 attorneys volunteer over 160 months of time, saving the taxpayers $2 million.

You may remember that in 2002, we joined forces with the Robinson, Calcagnie & Robinson law firm in taking action against giant international oil companies to clean up poison from ground water.  As a result, we forced the oil companies to clean up over 300 sites and pay over $25 million in penalties and millions more in unlimited costs for cleanup of contaminated sites. 

It's no secret that our office has been enduring a severe budget crisis.  We have to prosecute the same number of cases with 10 percent less prosecutors and investigators.  As important as protecting the public from unfair business practices and this case may be, I could not take prosecutors away from prosecuting murderers, rapists and gang members. 

We all know that as soon as we file this suit against the world's largest, most successful car corporation, they are going to be parachuting in lawyers, with all kinds of legal tactics up their sleeves.  We need the assistance of a law firm, with expertise in these types of cases, to help us defend against the barrage of legal attacks we expect from this gigantic international corporation.  Believe me, they will spare no expense to hire an army of lawyers from fancy firms.

Let me boil down this 18-page complaint. 

We will be alleging in court on behalf of the People of Orange County that:
* Toyota knowingly sold cars and trucks with defects that cause Toyotas to accelerate suddenly and uncontrollably;
*These defects exist in hundreds of thousands of Toyotas sold to Californians over the last several years;
*Toyota has known about these defects but intentionally did not disclose them to California purchasers;
*Rather than halt the sales of products in California until the problem was fixed, Toyota made the business decision to continue selling and leasing their defective products to Californians;
*Toyota failed to disclose these defects and actually took affirmative steps to hide and mislead the public about the defects;
*California consumers did not know about the defects;
*Millions of California consumers have been harmed by owning or leasing defective Toyotas, which completely undermines the safety and reliability of the vehicles; and
*The value of every Toyota owned by California consumers has been reduced because of the defects. 

There is a detailed timeline of key facts with which we intend to prove that Toyota ignored, omitted, obfuscated, and misrepresented the evidence that was amassing for many years regarding serious safety defects in their cars.  I believe they knew about these defects because of the many complaints they received. 

Since 2003, the National Highway Transportation and Safety Administration has conducted several investigations.  No solutions. Toyota recalled 55,000 cars in 2007. Toyota recalled 4.2 million cars in October 2009.  After sending letters to consumers claiming "no defect," they recalled one million additional cars in November 2009.

In January of this year, Toyota recalled an additional 3.4 million vehicles for sticking accelerator pedals.  We believe they falsely claimed to NHTSA that by fixing the sticking pedals and the floor mat problems, the sudden acceleration problem would also be resolved.   In February, Toyota recalled all 2010 Prius, Lexus HS 250h, and Camry Hybrids due to faulty brakes. 

On March 5, 2010, data revealed that more than 60 drivers had complained of sudden acceleration in their Toyota vehicles after they had been "repaired" in the recall. As of March 6, 2010, the number of deaths attributed to unintended acceleration in Toyota cars and trucks had reached 58 people.

Profits over people? How many more deaths? With this lawsuit, we are seeking to permanently enjoin Toyota from continued unlawful, unfair, deceptive, and fraudulent business practices as it pertains to both consumers and competitors. We are seeking $2,500 for every violation of the Unfair Business Practices Act.  We will demand recovery of attorneys' fees, investigation costs, and any other reasonable costs. 

We need to make sure that we protect Orange County Citizens from unfair business practices. We need to make sure that when Toyota says "Oh what a feeling" and "Moving Forward," they are talking about great cars.


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