Class Action Lawsuit Alleges Brake Defects In Toyota Hybrid Vehicles

Let’s get something straight right up front. Hagens Berman is a US law firm that specializes in class action lawsuits. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. The law provides remedies for civil wrongs committed by large corporations which sometimes elect to put profits ahead of the well being of customers. The recent example of General Motors and its defective ignition switches comes to mind.

Photo by Kyle Field/CleanTechnica

But class action litigation has become somewhat of an industry unto itself in America, with lead attorneys getting fat fees and the actual parties in interest getting little more than a few crumbs when all is said and done. For more on this topic, pick up a copy of John Grisham’s The King Of Torts. It paints a fascinating if somewhat fictionalized picture of what goes on the field of class action litigation.

On April 3, Hagens Berman filed a class action suit in federal court in Cincinnati alleging that several models of hybrid automobiles manufactured by Toyota have a brake system defect that can lead to serious accidents resulting in personal injury or death. The list of vehicles covered by the complaint is as follows:

  • 2010-2015 Toyota Prius
  • 2010-2015 Toyota Prius PHV
  • 2012-2015 Toyota Prius V
  • 2012-2015 Toyota Prius C
  • 2012-2014 Toyota Camry Hybrid
  • 2013-2015 Toyota Avalon Hybrid

In an e-mail sent to CleanTechnica by the law firm, managing partner Steve Berman, said, “Hundreds of thousands of Toyota vehicles are susceptible to this dangerous defect, and so far Toyota has refused to act responsibly to save lives and prevent injuries. Crashes are happening because of this brake defect, and people are reporting injuries. Every day Toyota waits to respond is a day someone could suffer a fatality.”

According to the suit, Toyota has indicated customers should wait until a brake problem develops and then bring their cars in for service. Presumably, error codes stored in the cars’ computers will help technicians pinpoint the cause of the failure and fix it. The lawyers say that is far too timid a response and puts customers (and other motorists) at risk. Here’s how Hagens Berman describes the defect.

Hagens Berman is investigating a hazardous brake defect affecting hundreds of thousands of Toyota vehicles that reportedly causes the vehicle’s braking system to completely fail, leading to high risk of crash, injury and potential fatality. The defect is believed to stem from the vehicles’ brake booster pump assemblies, which a Toyota dealership owner reportedly has stated is “causing crashes that are injuring people,” adding that “Toyota is mishandling it.”

The defect manifests even in new, or almost new vehicles, and drivers report the instance of the defect especially when attempting to brake while traversing bumpy or slick surfaces such as potholes, metal sheets or ice, but reports to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) also document the defect in many various other conditions, leading to crashes and injuries.

Owners report that the defect essentially renders their brakes inoperative under normal driving conditions.

Some Anecdotal Input & Analysis

The following comes from my own personal experiences and is worth precisely what you paid for it. I owned a 2007 Toyota Prius. The so-called Synergy Drive hybrid drivetrain incorporated regenerative braking to recharge the diminutive onboard battery while coasting or braking.

Many times when I applied the brakes, the car would slow at first, then the amount of retardation would decrease suddenly, giving the impression that the car was leaping forward. It wasn’t, but it wasn’t slowing down either. Often, a clunking sound would come from the front of the car at the same time.

I spent many years riding the T in Boston and am pretty familiar with the sounds its subway cars and trolleys make as they transition to braking mode.  To my ear, the sound my Prius made was a lot like the sound I was used to hearing from trolley cars on the Green Line. It was unsettling when it happened and I put it down to Toyota not having gotten the control algorithms right to manage both antilock and regenerative braking at the same time. Hybrid powertrains were pretty new technology at the time.

The recurring issue with the brakes was one of the primary reasons I did not keep the car after the lease expired. Is my experience relevant to this lawsuit? Probably not, but I understand why Toyota owners might be less than happy with their cars and with the way Toyota is responding to their complaints.

Every lawsuit has a beginning, a middle, and an end. It will probably take years for this matter to get resolved. Hopefully no one gets seriously injured while this case wends its way through the court system.

Steve Hanley

Steve writes about the interface between technology and sustainability from his home in Florida or anywhere else The Force may lead him. He is proud to be "woke" and doesn't really give a damn why the glass broke. He believes passionately in what Socrates said 3000 years ago: "The secret to change is to focus all of your energy not on fighting the old but on building the new."

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