Administrative Law

US Seeks to Impose Record $16.4M Auto Safety Fine on Toyota

Adding to the legal woes of the embattled Toyota Motor Corp. is facing over reported sudden-acceleration problems in its vehicles, the U.S. Department of Transportation today announced that it is seeking to impose a record-breaking auto safety fine of $16.375 million on the company.

Federal law requires possible safety defects to be reported to the government within five days of discovery. However, the feds say Toyota knew about an accelerator pedal defect that led to the recall of millions of its vehicles this year at least as of September of last year, but did not disclose it until January 2010, recounts the Detroit Free Press.

“We now have proof that Toyota failed to live up to its legal obligations,” said Ray LaHood, secretary of the U.S. Department of Transportation. “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 now has two weeks to decide whether to accept the $16.375 million civil penalty or wade into a high-stakes litigation battle with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. It didn’t say what it might do today, instead emphasizing its efforts to deal with quality issues following a January recall.

Despite the size of the fine, it is a relatively small amount compared to Toyota’s profits, according to the Washington Post. Some safety advocates say legislation should be enacted to allow stiffer fines and criminal sanctions for such alleged wrongdoing.

Additional coverage:

Guardian: “Toyota sees sales surge amid safety woes after slashing prices”

New York Times: “U.S. to Seek $16.4 Million Fine Against Toyota”

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