Courts Have Become the Temple of Junk Science

If the Left is really as passionate as they say they are about taking on people and institutions who are anti-science, then they should be dedicating themselves to rethinking the current tort system.  Toyota may be facing $5 billion in settlements due to a defect that government reports and independent studies say is not there.

And recall NHTSA's performance during the furor almost four years ago over alleged runaway Toyotas. Its then-overseer, Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, happily participated in congressional hearings designed to flog for the benefit of trial lawyers the idea of a hidden bug in Toyota's electronic throttle control.

When the agency much more quietly came out with a report a year later debunking the idea of an electronic defect, notice how little good it did Toyota. The car maker still found it necessary to cough up $1.2 billion to satisfy owners who claimed their cars lost value in the media frenzy over a non-defect. Toyota has also seen the tide turning against it lately as it resists a deluge of accident claims.

At first, opposing lawyers were hesitant to emphasize an invisible defect that government research suggested didn't exist. That was a tactical error on their part. In an Oklahoma trial last month involving an 82-year-old woman driver, jurors awarded $3 million in compensatory damages and were ready to assign punitive damages in a complaint focused on a hypothetical bug when Toyota abruptly settled on undisclosed terms.

In another closely-watched trial set to begin in California in March, an 83-year-old female driver (who has since died from unrelated causes) testified in a deposition that she stepped on the brake instead of the gas. The judge has already ruled that if the jury decides to believe her testimony, it is entitled to infer the existence of a defect that nobody can find.

These cases, out of some 300 pending, were chosen for a reason. Study after study, including one last year by the University of North Carolina Highway Safety Research Center, finds that elderly female drivers are inordinately prone to "pedal misapplication." If Toyota can't prevail in these cases, the company might be wise to run up the white flag and seek a global settlement that some estimate at upwards of $5 billion—quite a sum for a non-defect.


  1. jimc5499:

    Are you kidding? Do you know how much trial lawyers donate to the DNC? Why would the Left want to offend one of their biggest cash cows? What's next, making the Unions play fair?

  2. Tim:

    Here's the truth: While NASA and NHTSA didn't find any software defects that could lead to UA; there are known software defects in Toyota's engine management that will lead to UA.


    for some of the details

  3. mesocyclone:

    As a developer of embedded software, I was surprised, when the articles came out, at some of the problems described.

    Toyota really did screw up. Some of those problems would have been easy to avoid.

    Others - well, I'm glad my code is not in life-sensitive usage, so it doesn't have to survive bit flips, but it certainly deals with "task deaths" through the proper use of hardware watch dogs.

  4. borepatch:

    Just wait until driverless cars hit the market.

  5. kidmugsy:

    There must be lots of multinationals wondering whether the American market is worth the hassle. The shakedown of BP over the Gulf oil spill will have prompted similar thoughts.

  6. MingoV:

    The Toyota situation is a travesty, but less so than the situation faced by Dow Corning over the medical hazards of silicon breast implants. Lots of "experts" claimed that the implants caused autoimmune diseases, local scarring, and other vague systemic diseases. Most of us pathologists knew that the claims were nonsense. Dow Corning was sued by so many women that the lawsuits were rolled into a big class action suit. Dow Corning lost the suit and went bankrupt. But, shortly after the trial ended, numerous independent studies debunked every claim made by the plaintiffs.

  7. mesaeconoguy:

    There are some defects in my engine management which lead to IA.

    Moral: Never drive a hybrid.

  8. mesaeconoguy:

    Plus the whole US problem (unintended stimulation)

  9. Joe_Da:

    The incidents of unintended acceleration where almost exclusively from two classes of drivers.
    1) elderly drivers - who typically have lost a lot of motor skills
    2) rental car drivers/valets, etc who are unfamiliar/not used to the specific car they are driving,

  10. Joe_Da:

    Another item that demonstrates how fake the controversy is -
    Drive your car on the freeway doing 60-80 mph, keep the gas pedal fully engaged, while hitting the brakes with your left foot. Unless you have bad brakes, the car will stop and generally no more than 50% more than the normal stopping distance. (traffic may prevent the complete stop, though it will be very obvious that the car will stop

  11. Fred_Z:

    On the other hand, it's a government report that debunks the claims. Do you trust government reports? Government anything? The government is incompetent at every level from lowly counter clerks, cleaners and secretarial staff right up to the mau mau Kenyan his own self.

  12. DensityDuck:

    " there are known software defects in Toyota's engine management that will lead to UA."
    If I try to downshift from fourth gear to first instead of to third, my engine will leap out of my hood in a very ugly mess. This is a "known hardware defect" in my vehicle's drivetrain. And yet nobody is claiming that Chevy should pay five billion dollars in settlements.

  13. DensityDuck:

    I'm reminded of P.J. O'Rourke writing about Audi. "It's worth noting--and the NHTSA report did in fact note it--that the Honda Civic pedal placement is almost identical to that of the Audi 5000, and yet Honda Civics barely ever experienced SUIs. On the other hand, the Mercury Grand Marquis--where, on a clear day, you can almost see the accelerator from the brake--was in the SUI top ten. We don't need a huge government report to tell us what kind of person buys a little Honda rice rocket and what kind of person buys a huge Mercury Medicare sled."

  14. Noumenon72:

    Looks like they actually deserved to lose, according to Toyota's recent criminal settlement.