Behind the Wheel with Phil Lebeau

Toyota's Legal Woes Grow

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What started as a week filled with hope and promise for Toyota executives is ending with a thud.

That thud is the sound of more legal cases and investigations being filed or launched against the Japanese automaker.

Here's a taste of what Toyota is facing on a number of different fronts:

* The Orange County D.A. is suing Toyota in civil court claiming the automaker "knowingly sold and leased hundreds of thousands of cars and trucks with defects causing uncontrollable acceleration." D.A. is seeking an injunction against Toyota and a civil penalty of $2,500 for every violation of the California unfair businesses act. This case is comes in the county where a California Highway Patrolman and three others died after their Lexus sped out of control last summer. It is the accident that propelled question about Toyota vehicles speeding up onto the front page of newspapers around the country.

* The Connecticut Attorney General has announced he will investigate how Toyota has handled its recalls. Connecticut is where there have been two cases of runaway Toyotas.

* There are now at least 89 class action suits filed against Toyota. That number is expected to grow. It includes everything from people who feel the residual value of their Toyota vehicle has been hurt by all the recalls to those who believe Toyota is guilty misleading investors.

* A Federal Grand Jury continues to investigate if Toyota broke any criminal laws in relationship to how it handled complaints about potential safety defects.

* The House Oversight Committee is waiting to look at documents from Toyota about whether the claims of a former corporate attorney who says Toyota hid knowledge of potential safety defects.

And this doesn't even go into the individual lawsuits around the country involving accidents that may be related to Toyotas speeding up unintentionally.

Bottom line: Toyota's push to put the recall crisis off the front page has been slowed down. Whether it's because of Toyota owners claiming their car sped up suddenly or because regulators believe the company has dragged its feet, Toyota is still on the defensive. And increasingly finds itself playing defense from a lawyer's office.


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