Los Angeles: Toyota Motor Corp. agreed to pay $10 million to the family of four people killed in a runaway Lexus crash that led to recalls of millions of the automaker’s vehicles, attorneys said Thursday.
John Gomez, a lawyer who represents the victims’ family, and Larry N. Willis, who represents the dealership that lent the Lexus to the family, confirmed the settlement amount of $10 million.
Toyota, which did not admit or deny liability in the settlement, fought to keep the settlement amount confidential, but the Los Angeles Times newspaper and The Associated Press argued that the public’s interest in the case outweighed confidentiality concerns.
A Superior Court judge on Monday agreed, but imposed a gag order in case the family wanted to appeal. They did not appeal, allowing lawyers to release the amount.
Toyota said in a statement it was disappointed the amount had been made public.
“As is common in these cases, these parties agreed to keep the amount confidential, in part to protect the families from unwanted solicitations and to allow them to move on from this difficult period,” the automaker said.
The August 2009 crash killed off-duty California Highway Patrol Officer Mark Saylor, 45, his wife, their daughter and Saylor’s brother-in-law Chris Lastrella.
They were killed on a suburban San Diego freeway when their car reached speeds of more than 120 mph, struck a sport utility vehicle, launched off an embankment, rolled several times and burst into flames.
Investigators determined that a wrong-size floor mat trapped the accelerator and caused 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.
The case was considered the strongest of hundreds of lawsuits that have since been filed and consolidated before a federal judge in Orange County over claims stemming from sudden acceleration in several Toyota models, and brake glitches with the company’s Prius hybrid.
Toyota and the plaintiffs sought to keep the settlement amount in the Lexus case confidential, with the automaker arguing the release of the settlement details could affect pending litigation and hurt its reputation.
Superior Court Judge Anthony Mohr, however, said the public’s right to the details outweighed those concerns, and he denied a motion to keep the settlement sealed.
Mohr also extended a gag order until late Wednesday in order to give either side the chance to seek a stay, and up to 10 days to decide whether to pull the settlement altogether.
Tim Pestotnik, a lawyer who represented the Saylor family, said his clients opted not to pursue a stay or appeal the judge’s order allowing the release of the settlement amount.
“The families seek only privacy and peace at this time,” Pestotnik said.
Toyota said Bob Baker Lexus’ interest in making the settlement amount public was to shift the focus away from the dealership as the business continues its own litigation with the families and said it would continued to “defend itself vigorously against the misleading allegations Bob Baker Lexus is making against Toyota.”
The carmaker pointed out in its statement that the dealership installed a larger, thicker SUV mat in the Lexus sedan without the plastic retaining clips and the acclerator pedal became trapped in the grooves of that mat.
But Willis, the dealership’s Orange County attorney, said the investigation also found that floor mats were not the cause of the full throttle acceleration.
“What Toyota fails to mention is that the same official reports note that electronic components and mechanical causes may have been involved and causes of the accident, but could not be properly evaluated due to the extensive nature of the damage,” he said in a statement.
Willis noted that Toyota has since incorporated a brake override system in Lexus vehicles.
“Such a system would have prevented this, or virtually any other sudden acceleration accident, whether such acceleration was caused by floor mats, sticking accelerator pedals or an electronic failure,” he said.
Toyota, he said, has failed to step up and protect its dealer from lawsuits over its vehicle.