We write often about the combine of trial lawyers, politicians, activists and PR flacks, aided by a sympathetic media, campaigning against companies in hopes of a cash payout and the expansion of the regulatory state. The attacks against Toyota provide a good example of this pernicious phenomenon.
Today, the Department of Transportation and the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration announced the results of an in-depth scientific study that found no basis for the claims that vehicles’ electronic systems produced unintended acceleration. (Toyota statement.) Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said: “We enlisted the best and brightest engineers to study Toyota’s electronics systems, and the verdict is in. There is no electronic-based cause for unintended high-speed acceleration in Toyotas.”
Organizers of the corporate calumny against Toyota should be held accountable. The trial lawyers and their allies damaged the company’s reputation and sales, created unnecessary fears in the American public, and added to the “tort tax” that afflicts the U.S. economy.
Let’s start with the trial lawyers. The American Association for Justice, the main trial lawyer lobby, kept up a steady attack against Toyota, even dedicating the September 2010 cover of its monthly magazine, Trial, to the unfounded charges, “Toyota’s Deadly Secrets.” Just search the AAJ website for the term “Toyota” to see the unceasing promotion of litigation — class action suits, product liability suits, insurance complaints, even RICO claims.
The trial lawyer campaign was amplified last year by then-Chairman Henry Waxman (D-CA) of the House Energy and Commerce Committee. A subcommittee hearing in February 2010, “Response by Toyota and NHTSA to Incidents of Sudden Unintended Acceleration,” painted the company as an offender, failing to meet its corporate responsibilities. Another hearing in May repeated the allegations, complete with the release of subpoenaed documents that served the purposes of anti-Toyota litigation. The House Oversight Committee also promoted the charges, holding a hearing in February, “Toyota Gas Pedals: Is the Public at Risk?” The answer was no. (continue reading…)