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Toyota says plaintiffs' lawyers wrong about cause of acceleration problems [Updated]

November 18, 2010 |  1:19 pm

Ramping up efforts to defend the safety of its products, Toyota Motor Corp. on Thursday said attorneys who have sued the Japanese automaker have used "misleading information" in an attempt to show that problems with the vehicles' electronic throttle control units caused dozens of fatal crashes.

In a webcast news conference, Toyota attorney Joel H. Smith there's no evidence that even a single crash can be attributed to the cars' electronic throttle control systems.

He said it’s more likely that driver error was to blame, noting that many of the crashes involved older drivers. He attacked plaintiffs’ allegations that internal documents showed that Toyota mechanics had replicated unintended acceleration, noting that the documents referred to cars that were not equipped with electronic throttle units.

“All of these are tragic situations, but the important thing to realize is this is not some extraordinary number of fatalities that you can attribute to some defect in the vehicle,” Smith said. “Somewhere over 100 people a day on average die in automobile accidents in the United States. … The overwhelming majority of those are related to some error by some human being.”

Plaintiffs’ lawyers could not be reached for comment.

[Updated at 3:25 p.m. PST: Steve Berman, lead plaintiffs' attorney in the class-action lawsuit, said he was not swayed by Toyota's statements, which he said appeared to be an attempt to influence the judge overseeing the case.

"Toyota is betting that by foisting this new barrage of propaganda, they somehow will be able to sway the court through media coverage," Berman said in a prepared statement. "This ham-handed tactic is right in line with Toyota's overall strategy. The issue of unintended acceleration screams for transparency by the car maker. Instead, Toyota resonds with obfuscation and manipulation."]

A federal judge in Orange County is overseeing most of the lawsuits against Toyota, including a class-action lawsuit that seeks compensation for Toyota vehicle owners who have seen the value of their cars diminish and dozens of lawsuits seeking compensation for motorists injured in the crashes and the survivors of those who were killed.

Toyota, which has issued more than 11 million recalls notices since last year, has acknowledged that sticky gas pedals or floor mat entrapment can cause acceleration problems but has denied any other defect. Those problems have been addressed by the recalls, the automaker said.

Toyota lawyers have asked a judge to dismiss the lawsuits.

--Stuart Pfeifer

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