Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Is Takata's airbag propellant the root cause of problem?

NHTSA demands info about Takata's airbag propellant

You can reach Ryan Beene at -- Follow Ryan on Twitter

Special Report: Plant with troubled
past at center of Takata air bag probe
By Joanna Zuckerman Bernstein and Ben Klayman
CIUDAD FRONTERA Mexico/DETROIT Thu Nov 20, 2014 8:06am EST

Toyota Attempts to Legally Hammer its own Whistleblower!

Tentative Sanctions Against Translator in Toyota Probes

, The National Law Journal

Betsy Benjaminson.
Betsy Benjaminson.

A federal judge has tentatively sanctioned a former translator and subcontractor for Toyota who posted dozens of confidential documents relating to its sudden-acceleration recalls on her blog.
At the same time, the judge rejected repeated attempts by Toyota attorney Lisa Gilford to extend the sanctions order as to hundreds of other documents against translator Betsy Benjaminson, a self-described whistleblower.
At a hearing on Wednesday, U.S. District Judge James Selna of the Central District of California found that most of the documents that Toyota sought to include as part of the sanction were “simply not covered by the contempt order” because Benjaminson hadn’t yet signed a protective order designating them confidential at the time she obtained them.
“She should’ve been required to sign a protective order,” he said. “For whatever reason, that wasn’t done.”
Benjaminson, who was a subcontractor for Toyota assigned to translate documents from Japanese to English amid probes over sudden-acceleration recalls, later worked for plaintiffs attorneys in the litigation. She has provided internal Toyota documents to various news organizations and is writing a book about the sudden-acceleration recalls.
After she began posting thousands of internal documents on her blog this year, Toyota moved for sanctions, insisting that her actions violated the protective order, which she signed in 2012 while working for a translation services vendor for the plaintiffs.
At the end of the hearing, Gilford, a partner in the Los Angeles office of New York-based Skadden Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom—who argued repeatedly that sanctions should be applied to all the documents since they were subject to the protective order—vowed that her client wouldn’t back down from forcing Benjaminson to return those materials.
“We definitely consider these documents here to be protected and will pursue additional remedies,” she said.
Toyota spokesman Scott Vazin declined to comment.
Benjaminson, who lives in Israel, did not appear for the hearing. Her attorney, Hemant (Shashi) Kewalramani, founding partner of Lee, Jorgensen, Pyle & Kewalramani in Tustin, Calif., said his client would comply with the court’s order but wanted to provide documents to the Department of Justice and an independent monitor overseeing its $1.2 billion deferred-prosecution agreementwith Toyota.
Selna appeared concerned about that request.
“I’m somewhat troubled when you said I want to leave a back door to do that,” he said. “It’s not a palatable position.”
Selna did not issue a final order, stating he planned to review his tentative decision “from top to bottom.”
Toyota, which recalled more than 10 million cars and trucks for faulty accelerator pedals and floor mats that it says caused cars to suddenly accelerate, has paid billions of dollars to resolve hundreds of consumer lawsuits, regulatory fines and the criminal investigation. But Toyota, which is in the process of settling lawsuits filed by people injured or killed in accidents, has never admitted that glitches in the electronic throttle control system of the vehicles caused the problems.
In pursuing sanctions against Benjaminson, Toyota was particularly incensed about a PowerPoint presentation prepared by a plaintiffs software expert that it claimed contained “highly confidential source code information.” Toyota considers its source code to be a trade secret, but plaintiffs attorneys have pushed for access to prove the software has bugs.
On Sept. 2, Selna ordered Benjaminson to show why she should not be sanctioned.
Benjaminson, who removed the contested materials from public view, hasinsisted she obtained most of the documents prior to signing the protective order when she worked for Toyota’s translation-services vendor, Linguistic Services Inc. At that time, she was translating for Toyota’s attorneys at Debevoise & Plimpton as part of the government’s criminal investigation.
In 2012, she began working for two plaintiffs’ translation-services vendors, American Language Services and Technovate Inc.
In his tentative order, Selna found that Benjaminson should be sanctioned as to 88 documents she obtained while working for those firms. But he found that documents Benjaminson translated for Debevoise & Plimpton were “simply not covered by the contempt order” because she hadn’t yet signed the protective order.
Gilford insisted that those documents also were produced in the multidistrict litigation and that Benjaminson had signed the protective order as of this year, when she began posting the documents on her blog.
“As of July of this year, she had all the information she needed to understand what was protected,” she said. “We believe that is enough to find her in contempt with regard to the body of documents.”

Read more:

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Beware: Toyota Accelerator Sticking (AU) Facebook Page

  • Short Description
    Just stumbled on this Facebook page. Toyota Corolla SUA victim.

    This is the Precaution Facebook page for all Australian Toyota drivers - just be wary that it can happen to anyone at anytime without warning. If you've had the same incident, please post!

  • Long Description

    On the 30th August at 5.10pm on my way home from work I encountered a problem with my 2007 model Toyota Corolla. Whilst driving on the Cumberland Hwy (close to the intersection with Old Windsor Road, Northmead) I accelerated to merge into the left lane and found after releasing the accelerator pedal that my car was still accelerating with high REVS noise coming from the engine (as if I had just floored on the gas pedal and kept it there). I turned the corner at approximately 70km/hr and continued to try and stop or brake the car by putting my gear into park, reverse, neutral and even pulling up the handbrake and leaving it there. I drove up a hill and back down to the other side with the gear in parked and my handbrakes up with my foot slammed on the brake pedal (which only slowed the acceleration but did not stop the car). In the end I figured that the only way to stop the car was to turn off the engine to which my car skidded and steering wheel locked. Luckily at that time I had no car behind or in front of me or in the lane next to me to swerve into, however if any of you have been on Cumberland Hwy during peak hour, you would know that I was EXTREMELY lucky to drive through two traffic lights (green, thankfully) without hurting myself or anyone else on the road!

    One week later and dozens of phone calls to Toyota to chase up the problem, they managed to get an inspector out and have concluded that my car is in perfect condition with no electrical or mechanical fault and that I'm silly stupid driver as the "Floor mats" must have gotten "caught" in between the pedal. However they will replace my acceleration pedal anyway just as a "precaution". The dealer ordered in the pedal yesterday and apparently it should've came today to fix up my car, however when it arrived, they realised that they had ordered the wrong one. Does anyone think this is ridiculous? A Toyota Dealership ordering the wrong pedal for a Toyota model car?!

    So to sum up, I just wanted every Toyota driver (2007-2010) to keep my incident in the back of their mind and make sure that if it happens to you that you take the floor mat out and throw it out your car window, else you'd be too dead to argue the case with Toyota that it wasn't the floor mat!!!

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Safety Agency is Failing the Public on Air Bags

Safety agency is failing the public on air bags

A crash test of a 2003 Toyota Corolla, one of the models subject to a recall to repair faulty air bags. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is warning 7.8 million car owners that inflator mechanisms in the air bags can rupture, causing metal fragments to fly out when the bags are deployed
A crash test of a 2003 Toyota Corolla, one of the models subject to a recall to repair faulty air bags. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is warning 7.8 million car owners that inflator mechanisms in the air bags can rupture, causing metal fragments to fly out when the bags are deployed Insurance Institute for Highway Safety
Jeff Gelles, Inquirer Business Columnist
Is an auto-safety system reliant on manufacturers' recalls no more trustworthy, say, than an aging Takata air bag in a hot, humid climate?

That's how it looks to advocates like Clarence Ditlow, director of the Center for Auto Safety. Ironically, thanks to the failures of the system he criticizes, you may not realize just how perilous Takata air bags can be - even if you have one in your car.

As many as 30 million U.S. vehicles may be equipped with air bags whose deteriorating inflators could blow apart and send shards flying like shrapnel. But since Tokyo-based Takata says the risk is linked to hot, humid climates, fewer than 1 in 3 have been recalled.

To Ditlow, this is a flashing red light signaling an old problem: a safety system still broken 14 years after Congress supposedly fixed it with 2000's TREAD Act - passed after a furor over injuries and deaths blamed on Firestone tires with separating tread, many on Ford Explorer SUVs.

As with those tires and the rollover crashes they triggered, it took years for regulators to wake up to more recent hazards, such as faulty ignition switches that can turn GM cars into death traps if a key ring weighs too much.

Each delay likely leads to more injury and death. Yet the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, charged with shepherding defect probes, at best seems underfinanced and overmatched by the auto industry. Ditlow sees a deeper issue, too. With a revolving door linking NHTSA to the industry, he says, it's become a classic "captive regulator," loyal more to the firms it oversees than to the customers it is supposed to protect.

"Obviously, Congress didn't get it right," Ditlow told me while outlining the failures of TREAD - the Transportation Recall Enhancement, Accountability and Documentation Act.

For instance, the law requires automakers to report each death and injury that might be tied to a defective part. But instead of requiring documentation that could speed investigations, NHTSA accepts vague summaries.

"They have a category of 'air bag,' and now 60 percent of death and injury reports say 'air bag,' " Ditlow says. That can include air bags that fired when they shouldn't or didn't seem to deploy properly. The case of the Takata air bags is completely different: The hazard apparently arises when an inflator's casing rots so much that it flies apart when an air bag, as designed, fires with explosive force.

So far, Takata has confirmed two deaths, and two more are suspected. Three of those four are outside the recall zone. In one, Ditlow says, "investigators thought it was a homicide. They'd never seen such sharp-edged wounds."

One question, which arises in every big defect case, is how many deaths or serious injuries are buried by the civil-justice system. Victims and their families are pushed to sign nondisclosure orders in return for settlements. The money may cover the costs of treatment or ease the pain of a severe injury or family's loss. But the gag order likely means more future victims, because fewer people will hear of the hazard.

How do you know if you're at risk from the Takata defect? It's not easy - one reason about 30 percent of all recall repairs never get done. Last month, NHTSA published a list of 7.8 million vehicles affected - mostly older Hondas, but also from nine other automakers. You can find it at or call 888-327-4236.

If you search NHTSA's site by your vehicle's VIN number, the regionally limited recalls mean you may not learn you have a suspect air bag. And if you call a Philadelphia-area dealer, you'll get a response that varies by manufacturer, says one local service manager. Nissan has plenty of parts. Toyota won't have them until New Year's. Honda has some, but it's prioritizing places with persistent heat and humidity.

And if your Accord, say, spent most of its first 10 years at Mom and Dad's Florida retirement condo? Make noise, and ask for an exception. Or follow Toyota's advice: Avoid the front passenger seat until the repair is done.

Could the defect be tied to age rather than just climate, as Ditlow speculates? Could NHTSA do more, and quicker - such as use its power to speed replacement parts from third-party suppliers?
Yes, and yes. But nothing is likely to happen unless the agency gets a stronger directive, and more support, from Congress.

The Obama administration has ordered a review of the "safety culture" at NHTSA. That's a start. But the problem isn't just culture. The problem is a system that allows evidence of a defect to be buried along with its victims. 215-854-2776 @jeffgelles

Jeff GellesInquirer Business Columnist


Thursday, October 30, 2014

Translator Refutes Toyota’s Contempt Motion in Leaks

Translator Refutes Toyota’s Contempt Motion in Leaks

, The National Law Journal

A translator who allegedly leaked confidential discovery documents from litigation against Toyota Motor Corp. says she should not be found in contempt because she has removed all those materials from the public view.
U.S. District Judge James Selna of the Central District of California has orderedBetsy Benjaminson, who lives in Israel and is a self-described whistleblower, to show cause why she should not be sanctioned.

Benjaminson's attorney argues that, while working for a translation service retained by plaintiffs’ counsel, she obtained 88 documents from the Toyota’s sudden-acceleration litigation. She said she got another 1,500 documents when translating for Toyota’s criminal counsel, Debevoise & Plimpton, during investigations by the U.S. government and various state attorneys general.
The criminal investigations were not within the scope of the protective order governing the civil cases in the multidistrict litigation, so Benjaminson could not have violated the protective order by taking documents related to them, Benjaminson’s counsel, H.H. Kewalramani of Lee, Jorgensen, Plye & Kewalramani, argued in a court document.
Moreover, Benjaminson had not signed the protective order while working for Debevoise & Plimpton’s translation vendor, her counsel added.
That leaves Toyota arguing for “retroactive applicability of the protective order and expansion of this court’s authority over all things related to Toyota sudden acceleration, whether part of this MDL or not,” Kewalramani argued.
Benjaminson worked for three translation services during the litigation, according to the response.
In a separate motion, plaintiffs’ counsel opposed Toyota’s ex parte application to have one of their experts comply with the car manufacturer’s discovery request in a bid to learn how documents got to Benjaminson.
Benjaminson had obtained a PowerPoint presentation prepared by Michael Barr, a plaintiffs expert witness who concluded that Toyota's source code was defective and led to unintended acceleration in a Toyota Camry. The expert presented the information during the first trial testing whether Toyota’s throttle-control systems caused vehicles to spontaneously accelerate.
According to Toyota’s court papers, Benjaminson obtained the source-code material from another plaintiffs expert, Antony Anderson, who got it from Barr’s Dropbox account.
The plaintiffs said Toyota was “trying to bully Michael Barr, the plaintiffs expert, and exert an asymmetrical pleading burden against counsel for plaintiffs and that expert.”

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Weak Oversight, Deadly Cars

The Opinion Pages          Op-Ed Contributors

Weak Oversight, Deadly Cars

By Clarence Ditlow and Ralph Nader  October 28, 2014

WHEN regulators sleep and auto companies place profits over safety, safety defects pile up. A record number of vehicles — more than 50 million — have been recalled this year, a result of congressional hearings and Justice Department prosecutions, which exposed a mass of deadly defects that the auto industry had concealed.
From the Ford Explorer rollovers in the 1990s and Toyotas’ issue with unintended acceleration in the 2000s to the recent fatal consequences of defective General Motors ignition switches and Takata airbags, the auto companies hid defects to avoid recalls and save money. These and other major defects were first exposed by safety advocates who petitioned the government and by reporters in the tradition of Bob Irvin of The Detroit News, who wrote over 35 articles on Chevrolet engine mounts until General Motors agreed to recall 6.7 million vehicles in 1971.
These campaigners did the job the regulator should have done. Congress gave the Department of Transportation authority to regulate the auto industry through the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration — including subpoena authority to find defects. But it used this authority so infrequently after the ’70s that its acting administrator, David J. Friedman, told Congress this year that he didn’t even know it had the power. The N.H.T.S.A. also failed to require companies to disclose death-claim records in civil lawsuits over the Toyota accelerations, G.M. ignition switches and Takata airbags.
In order to prevent the risk of death or serious injury, Congress empowered the agency to oblige auto companies to use alternate suppliers and independent repair shops to manufacture parts and make repairs to expedite a recall fix. Yet the N.H.T.S.A. has never used this authority — even though it took General Motors from February to October to get enough parts to dealers to repair all the recalled ignition switches.
Only after a lengthy delay was the agency prodded, in 2009, into opening an investigation into whether the first two Honda recalls of Takata airbags were adequate. Although the agency asked tough questions, it quickly closed the investigation after Takata hired a former senior N.H.T.S.A. official to represent the company. The agency’s attitude, in short, was: Don’t bother us with the facts.
More facts did come out when BMW, Honda, Nissan and Toyota recalled millions of Takata airbags from 2010 to 2013. Still, the N.H.T.S.A. opened no investigations and ordered no recalls on the airbags. Honda also failed to disclose death and injury claims on Takata airbags, as required by law. Even now — after reports of a third death in the United States associated with the airbags — the N.H.T.S.A. refuses to order a national recall, as Senators Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut and Edward Markey of Massachusetts have urged.
What explains this neglect? Over time, the N.H.T.S.A. has been captured by the industry it regulates. Through the ’70s, it aggressively litigated cases to force recalls, and it caught most defects early in the life of a vehicle. Beginning in the ’80s, however, numerous officials — including Diane K. Steed, Jerry Ralph Curry, Sue Bailey and David L. Strickland, who all served as head of the agency, and Erika Z. Jones, Jacqueline S. Glassman and Paul Jackson Rice, who all served as chief counsel to the agency — have gone on to become consultants, lawyers or expert witnesses for auto companies.
What’s more, the agency is heavily populated by former industry employees. Ms. Glassman, for example, had been a lawyer for Chrysler before working at the agency (and is now at a law firm that represents auto companies). The agency’s last non-acting administrator, Mr. Strickland, went to work in January of 2014 for a firm representing Chrysler — the same month the agency approved an inadequate recall of Chrysler Jeeps with fuel tanks liable to explode as a result of rear impacts.

Although Congress has given the N.H.T.S.A. regulatory tools that the agency failed to use, Congress has not given it the two things it needs most: sufficient funding, and the power to bring criminal penalties against auto companies. The agency’s annual vehicle safety budget is a puny $134 million. Unlike other federal regulators, the N.H.T.S.A. does not have its own research and test facility.
Since the National Traffic and Motor Vehicle Safety Act was enacted in 1966, the industry has blocked any meaningful provision for criminal penalties that would make company executives who concealed defects or decided not to recall dangerous vehicles subject to prison sentences. No single reform would change corporate behavior as much as this.
Only a complete overhaul of the agency’s culture will prevent future recalls, since automakers will always place sales and profits over safety and innovation. This should start with closing the revolving door, adopting criminal penalties and increasing funding. All auto companies should have an independent, government-certified safety ombudsman to investigate complaints from whistle-blowers and to report defects directly to the chief executive and the agency.
Above all, the agency’s leaders must have proven transportation safety expertise. They must demonstrate that they see auto companies as an industry to be regulated, rather than partners whose profits and sales must be protected at the public’s expense.

Weak Oversight, Deadly Cars


Sunday, October 26, 2014

Toyota Vehicle ENTRAPMENT by Sticking Door Latches. Safety Issue!

I posted this in early 2009. The problem of Toyota Sienna sticking door latches seemed to bring forward a lot of on-line complaints. Owners ALL felt it was a safety threat to the vehicle owner's family, particularly children. 

LOTS of Sienna sliding door handles broke due to the excessive force needed to open the sliding doors. Most of these sliding doors could not be opened from either the inside or outside.

Toyota blamed vehicle owners for spilling sticky drinks and oiling the door track was advised by Toyota. The sticky drinks weren't the cause and oiling didn't correct the problem however.

Did NHTSA investigate? There was a silent Technical Servoce Bulletin used for the most vocal vehicle owners. Were there any deaths or injuries as a result of this problem? 

It is interesting to not the recent increase in the number of
postings about the TOYOTA STICKING DOOR LATCHES and/or LOCKS
problem.  Apparently, Toyota has yet to issue a diagnostic/repair
bulletin about this problem even though it has been around for
years!  Isn't this willful neglect and cover-up of a SAFETY ISSUE?!?

I am the original poster about this problem as it occurred in my
Sienna as well.  The sliding doors could not be opened by an adult,
much less a child, from the inside of the van.  The dealership
insisted it was due to "spilled sticky drinks!"  It seems that this
has been the corporate's expected dealership response as I've heard
too-numerous-to-count Toyota vehicle owners recount the same story
about their sticking door issue for the last several years.

I contested this lame excuse.  Toyota replaced the locks and the
problem has only recurred intermittently since that time.  Having
stuck sliding doors is a scary experience!  Paint this picture in
your head for a moment---a Toyota Sienna has sticking door latches.
Then, the sludge monster creeps in.  The van overheats due to the
thickened oil and possible oil plugs.  The van experiences an ENGINE
FIRE DUE TO ENGINE OIL SLUDGE (it IS happening!).  Your passengers,
including small children, can NOT get out of the burning van!

If you think it can't happen, think again.  There have been numerous
accounts of spontaneous engine fires, particularly in the Sienna and
Camry.  Toyota never admitted that the engine oil sludge (see my
petition) is a problem and blamed the owners just as in the sticking
door lock situation.  The owners believe that the engine oil sludge
and sticking door latches are MANUFACUTURING DESIGN DEFECTS and that
Toyota is unfairly shifting the blame to escape financial

In the meantime, there are also reports about faulty ABS (antilock
braking system) systems in these same vehicles.  Notice that Toyota
continues to claim that there aren't many recalls in its vehicles.
Is this because there aren't any problems reported OR is because
Toyota has chosen to BLAME THE OWNER for the inherent performance
and/or safety problems?

You be the judge!  Consider, however, the fact that through the last
decade, key postings about safety issues in these vehicles have been
eliminated from the internet.  I know because I have been part of
many forums where these problems have been discussed at length.  My
question is, does Toyota participate in programs aimed at
manipulating postings about its products in order to preserve
the "Toyota Myth" about quality?  Only those who have been tracking
the postings over the last several years would notice what is
happening, most likely.  Certainly, the company admits that it
tracks what is being said about it online. me...there
is no shortage of "corporate protectors" out there who actively
contest complaints made about Toyota products!

We all know that these are hard economic times.  How is it that
Toyota can get away with blaming the owners and forcing them to put
up hundreds/thousands of dollars for repairs that should be covered
by the manufacturer????  The ENGINE OIL SLUDGE debacle proved that
Toyota will dig in its heels to escape responsibility and continue
to point the finger at its one-time loyal customers!!

SPEAK UP about the safety issues!  Contact the NHTSA with a PETITION
politicians as well.  Contact any/all consumer agencies out there
(particularly the Center for Auto Safety) and insist on action being
taken.  By being a thorn in the side of the auto manufacturer, you
will ensure that the word gets out and the manufacturer must
respond.  Go with your gut---if you know the manufacturer is blowing
smoke, EXPOSE it!