In February, I wrote about the impact electronic documents could have on Toyota after a congressional committee and the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration decided to launch a formal investigation into how much and when the popular automaker knew about faulty accelerator pedals. At the time, Recommind VP Craig Carpenter said:
Because the House [Oversight and Government Reform] Committee has subpoena power and can use any documentation produced by Toyota to the NHTSA ... the situation has morphed from a PR issue to a major, "bet the business" investigation.
As of Tuesday, Toyota could be on the way to losing that bet. Bloomberg reports documents that Toyota turned over to the NHTSA reveal that the automaker knew of the problems as early as September, when distributors in Canada and Europe were told to "resolve sticky pedal complaints," but the company waited four months before alerting U.S. regulators to the problem.
U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood is proposing a fine of roughly $16 million, the story says. What's more, the announcement provides attorneys whose clients are suing Toyota as a result of the faulty pedals free publicity that could influence potential jury pools.
The fine, which is the maximum possible, is just the tip of the iceberg, I'm afraid. The company faces as many as 177 potential class-action lawsuits and 56 more claiming personal injury or wrongful death.