Toyota Motor Corp. has agreed to pay more than $1 billion to settle a class-action lawsuit alleging electronic malfunctions caused its cars to speed up without warning, but the families of New England residents who were in fatal accidents said to involve involuntary accelerations remain unsatisfied because they won’t be compensated for emotional suffering.
Instead, the settlement filed on Wednesday in US District Court in California will pay for repairs and extended warranties on millions of vehicles and reimburse Toyota owners for money they may have lost when they sold or traded in their cars during the controversy.
“The settlement is for people who suffered an economic loss, but we lost human beings — husbands, fathers, daughters,” said Colleen Krause whose husband, Stephen, was killed in 2009 when a speeding Toyota Highlander crossed the center line on Route 202 in New Hampshire and hit his rented Chevrolet head-on. “It’s good news, but it doesn’t bring back my husband.”
The driver of the Highlander, Harvard biostatistics professor Stephen Lagakos, also died in the crash, along with his wife and mother, who were passengers in his vehicle.
The suit was filed in 2010 after the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration received hundreds of complaints about spontaneous acceleration in vehicles manufactured by Toyota. The NHTSA fined Toyota more than $60 million for withholding information about its vehicles’ sudden acceleration, but a government investigation found no evidence that faulty electronics caused the problem.
Toyota has recalled more than 8 million cars, attributing the acceleration problem to sticky gas pedals and floor mats that could tangle with pedals.
In the settlement, Toyota did not acknowledge any flaws in its vehicles’ electronics and said it consented to the large payout because “turning the page on this legacy legal issue . . . is in the best interests of the company.”
Krause, 58, of Keene, N.H., said she has joined a separate class action against Toyota brought by accident victims and their families.
In addition, Toyota faces an unfair business practice suit brought by 28 state attorneys general as well as several individual personal injury and wrongful death lawsuits.
Marvin Cohen, 73, of Mashpee, said he feels that the large settlement by Toyota offers a measure of vindication for his late father-in-law, Leonard Rubin, of Framingham.
Rubin blamed unintended acceleration when he backed into a woman in a parking lot in Delray Beach, Fla., in 2004. The woman, 79-year-old Blossom Malick, died from her injuries.
Cohen recalls that Rubin, who was 87 at the time of the accident, told his family that his 2003 Toyota Camry “shot back” on its own, prompting Cohen to report the crash to the NHTSA as a possible case of unintended acceleration. Nevertheless, Rubin was guilt-ridden until he died in 2008.
“He was in a depression for four years, and I think it contributed to his death,” Cohen said.
Though he believes the settlement helps to lift some blame from Rubin, Cohen described the agreement as a hollow victory.
There is nothing in the settlement for Rubin’s family or Malick’s.
“We lost something big that can’t be measured in money value,” Cohen said of both families.
The settlement still needs approval from Judge James V. Selna, but Steve Berman, the plaintiffs’ lead attorney, has outlined the terms as up to $250 million in payments to Toyota owners who sold or traded in their vehicles between Sept. 1, 2009, and Dec. 31, 2010; $200 million to $400 million to install brake-override systems on as many as 3.25 million vehicles; $250 million to compensate owners whose vehicles cannot be updated with the brake-override system; $400 million to extend warranties for engine-control modules and other components; and about $227 million in legal fees.Callum Borchers can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @callumborchers.