Northern California Record

Wednesday, November 13, 2019

Toyota calls foul on class-action lawsuit

By Charmaine Little | Feb 6, 2017

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LOS ANGELES — Toyota has made it clear it is not standing for the complaints that owners have filed against it.

“We do not believe plaintiffs have put forth any credible allegations to the support the lawsuit,” Aaron Fowles, the company's corporate communications manager, recently told the Northern California Record.

The company's response came after some Toyota and Lexus owners took legal action after trying to cool off in their vehicles only to allegedly be met with an unusual, pungent odor.

2017 Toyota Yaris | Coutesy of Toyota

Six consumers — Paul Stockinger, Elizabeth Stockinger, Gailyn Kennedy, Basudeb Dey, Brenda Flinn and Eliezer Casper — filed a class-action lawsuit against the Lexus and Toyota brands with the claim that their cars have faulty heating, ventilation and air-conditioning systems that put out unappealing odors because of particles such as microbes, which includes mold, the Northern California Record reported previously.

The consumers, who filed the lawsuit on Jan. 3 in the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California, blame Toyota Motor Sales because they allege that the company did not release information regarding the malfunctioned HVAC system when the customers purchased the vehicles. The plaintiffs want the trial to go before a jury and are seeking damages including punitive, statutory and compensatory, plus legal fees

Still, Fowles said that Toyota prides itself on the service it has offered its clients despite the allegations against it.

"We continue to stand firmly behind the integrity and performance of our vehicles and believe that these claims are meritless," he said.

When it comes to the opportunity and legal options that Toyota could possibly take toward the plaintiffs, one factor could be federal pre-emption.

Class-action attorney Scott Cooper, who is not representing any of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit, wrote a detailed article about federal pre-emption. It is possible that it could be a benefit to automotive companies in cases like the one against Toyota under the the National Traffic and Motor Vehicle Safety Act of 1966. The law permits the Department of Transportation to give automotive companies "minimum safety requirements" to fulfill when they are making vehicles. If the nature of the complaint interferes with these standards, the defendant could have a good case and federal pre-emption could come into play.

Fowles said he could not speak on the details of the case or if Toyota plans to move forward with federal pre-emption or any other legal processes. The statement comes after Fowles said he looked into details of the case and Toyota's statistics and recent reports.

Toyota has been no stranger to having recalls filed against it. From airbag defects to electrical ignition issues and acceleration fatalities, an entire website is dedicated to informing consumers on Toyota's alleged manufacturing problems.

Cooper was unavailable to comment on the case. Lawyers representing the plaintiffs — Paul R. Kiesel, Helen E. Zukin, Jeffrey A. Koncius and Nicole Ramirez of Kiesel Law LLP in Beverly Hills — did not return calls seeking comment.

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