Editor's note: An earlier version of this column misspelled the name of plaintiff attorney Steve Berman.
LOS ANGELES -- There's an old journalistic credo: Always spell peoples' names correctly, because if you get that part wrong, the reader wonders what else you messed up.
The 700-page new filing to the Toyota unintended acceleration class-action lawsuit may have some merit, but there are some grievous flaws that can only hurt the plantiffs' case.
• Exhibit 1: The new filing alleges that Toyota bought back flawed vehicles in order to hide the problem and quash consumers' ability to sue. There are so many problems with this, I don't know where to start.
You see, consumer protection laws dictate that manufacturers must repurchase vehicles that produce repeated flaws. And when a customer hands over a lemon, and gets paid back, he waives the right to further legal action. It's part of any lemon law transaction.
Suddenly this is something eye-poppingly evil?
What's more, If Toyota didn't buy back allegedly flawed vehicles, forcing consumers to keep driving them, wouldn't that be an even worse error in judgment?
And if Toyota didn't investigate the lemons, arrogantly assuming their cars were perfect, wouldn't that be even worse? It's called root-cause analysis, and any company, when presented with a flawed product, conducts it.
Basically, the plaintiffs are accusing Toyota of bad behavior because of laws foisted upon automakers years ago, and of performing troubleshooting that any sane management would order.
• Exhibit 2: The hidden confidentiality agreement. Plaintiff lawyers are accusing Toyota of forcing the buyback customers to sign confidentiality agreements.
One problem: No one can produce such a document. Plaintiff lawyer Steve Berman, when pressed, said, “the consumers told us” about them. That is appallingly poor legal representation.
I can hear the judge now: “Facts not in evidence. Denied.”
• Exhibit 3: The filing refers to a 2009 lawsuit in which a Toyota service manager claimed a Toyota Tacoma accelerated without prompting or rational explanation from 70 mph to 95 mph “in seconds.”
That should make owners of Tacomas spit their coffee, if only for the realization that their dowdy compact pickup truck can now out-accelerate a Lamborghini Gallardo, Ford GT and Porsche 911 Turbo.
Take a look at www.torquestats.com and you'll see the kind of vehicles that can accelerate from 60 to 100 mph “in seconds.” The Toyota Tacoma, not even with the “haunted acceleration trim package,” is nowhere on the list.
I've driven numerous Tacomas at freeway speeds, and I can confidently say that, at 70 mph, cracking the whip produces acceleration that is, ahem, leisurely.
Merits to the case?
That's not to say that the larger case is without merit. Toyota covered up its sludged engines for years and only came clean after being flushed out. Is this the same behavior? Perhaps.
But the plaintiffs lost a big ally when the family of the CHP officer killed in an allegedly runaway Lexus settled out of court with Toyota several months ago.
The new filing reeks of desperation. When plaintiffs' attorneys present slipshod evidence, it only hurts their clients.