Toyota sold large numbers of vehicles that were defective because they could accelerate without warning and hid complaints about the issue from federal investigators and the public, two Northern Kentucky couples have alleged in a lawsuit.
The suit says a Boone County woman and a Grant County woman were hurt in accidents caused by stuck gas pedals in Toyotas.
The lawsuit, filed Wednesday in U.S. District Court in Covington, seeks certification as a class action. If that happens, many more people could join the lawsuit.
The suit might be the first filed in the federal courts' Eastern District of Kentucky — which includes Lexington — over the issue of Toyota accelerators sticking.
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Last week, Toyota issued a global recall of nearly 4.6 million vehicles to fix a gas pedal that can stick when depressed. Some 2.3 million of those cars — including some of Toyota's best-selling models, such as the Camry and Corolla — are in the United States.
As part of the recall effort, Toyota halted production and sales of the eight recalled models. The production stop included a line that produces the Camry and Avalon at the company's Georgetown plant, its largest in North America.
The company announced this week that it had come up with a fix for the accelerator problem.
Other lawsuits have been filed against Toyota since the company issued the recall, including one filed Tuesday by civil action attorney Stan Chesley in Cincinnati.
Chesley filed the suit in Hamilton County Common Pleas Court on behalf of Hugh and Pamela Cox, the Cincinnati Enquirer reported. The lawsuit says Toyota should take over the couple's car payments because they can't drive their 2010 Camry and its value has plummeted because of the accelerator problem, the newspaper reported.
A spokeswoman for Toyota told the Herald-Leader that the company cannot comment on pending lawsuits.
The suit filed in Northern Kentucky on Wednesday names Toyota North America Inc., Toyota Motor Sales U.S.A. Inc. and Toyota Motor Corp. as defendants.
The plaintiffs are Tina and Fran Preedom of Grant County and Debra and Ron Poynter of Boone County.
The couples and their attorney, Eric Deters of Independence, could not be reached Wednesday.
However, the lawsuit says Debra Poynter was hurt in November while standing in front of a bank in Kenton County when the gas pedal on a 1994 Camry someone else was driving stuck. The car jumped onto the sidewalk and crushed Poynter against the bank, the lawsuit says.
Preedom was hurt in October when the gas pedal on her 2007 Tundra stuck, causing her to crash into an embankment, the lawsuit says.
The lawsuit does not specify how much the couples want in damages but says the "matter in controversy" is more than $5 million.
The lawsuit claims that in the 1990s, Toyota began installing an electronic accelerator system that does not have a mechanical tie between the gas pedal and throttle linkage, but rather is controlled by sensors and a control unit.
That "drive by wire" system is vulnerable to electronic interference and can have a problem with runaway acceleration, the lawsuit says.
"Runaway acceleration events almost always begin suddenly and without warning; the throttle opens so rapidly it is wide open before the driver has time to react; the automobile continues out of control despite desperate braking efforts by the driver; and, unless the driver manages to disengage the engine quickly, the likelihood of a catastrophic outcome is great," the lawsuit says.
The company did not include any sort of mechanical or electronic "failsafe" system to let drivers regain control of vehicles with a stuck gas pedal, even as complaints about the problem mounted, the lawsuit said.
After the federal government started an investigation of 2002 and 2003 model Camrys, Toyota said it had gotten 123 complaints that might relate to the "alleged defect," but "deceptively concealed" many other potentially relevant complaints because it didn't count some types of incidents, the lawsuit says.
The lawsuit also said Toyota's recent advisory that it had a fix for the gas pedal is "dangerously misleading" because it lures owners of newer models with low mileage into believing that there is little possibility of a catastrophic loss of control.