U.S. DOT seeks largest ever civil penalty
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) is going to fine Toyota Motor Corporation $16.375 million for failing to notify the agency of sticking accelerator pedal defects. The NHTSA contends that Toyota knew the potential risk to consumers, but was reluctant to react. The fine will be the largest civil penalty ever given by the NHTSA.
Toyota is being fined due to the company’s slow response to notify the NHTSA. Auto manufacturers are required to inform the NHTSA about potential safety problems within five business days. The U.S. DOT claims the Japanese automaker knew the problem existed for at least four months before it contacted the department.
“We now have proof that Toyota failed to live up to its legal obligations,” said Secretary LaHood. “Worse yet, they knowingly hid a dangerous defect for months from U.S. officials and did not take action to protect millions of drivers and their families. For those reasons, we are seeking the maximum penalty possible under current laws.”
Toyota has two weeks to accept or contest the penalty. Japan’s No. 1 automaker will have a difficult decision to make. Toyota will likely want to pay the fine to avoid media attention, but even that will have its own set of problems. Paying the fine could been seen as a possible admission of guilt for ongoing civil cases. According to MSNBC, Toyota faces over 130 class-action lawsuits and over 100 personal injury lawsuits. The lawyer feeding frenzy has begun.
$16.375 million is the maximum fine the NHTSA has the authority to issue. The NHTSA is still not ruling out additional fines if it finds more safety issues. “Safety is our top priority and we will vigorously pursue companies that put consumers at risk,” said NHTSA Administrator David Strickland. “We will continue to hold Toyota accountable for any additional violations we find in our ongoing investigation.”