Court Rules for Openness in Toyota Settlements

A ruling late last month by a California judge could hold significant long-term benefits for Oregon accident victims. The judge struck a blow for openness and, in so doing, may make it a bit easier for accident victims across the country to obtain justice when they face off against large corporations.

According to the Los Angeles Times, the judge ruled that Toyota “cannot keep secret the terms of a settlement it made with the family of four people killed in a Lexus accident outside San Diego last year.” The paper reports that the 2009 accident was attributed to “sudden acceleration” by the vehicle. This is, in fact, the accident that touched off the multiple vehicle recalls that caused Toyota so many headaches last year.

Interestingly, both Toyota and the victims’ families had asked that details of their settlement be sealed, arguing that public disclosure could taint any subsequent legal proceedings. The judge rejected that claim, writing that “in this case, the right to know overpowers the concerns raised by the plaintiffs and the defendants.” A Toyota spokesman described the carmaker as “disappointed” in the ruling, but did not say whether the company will appeal, according to the newspaper.

The Toyota ruling is important on several levels. First, it establishes a useful benchmark for Oregon families considering legal action against Toyota in relation to last year’s recalls. An Oregon product liability attorney can help victims and their families in our state consider how their case may compare to the ones Toyota settled in California – information that might prove essential as victims and an Oregon personal injury attorney consider the best way to proceed.

More importantly, however, the California ruling strikes a blow for transparency and, in doing so, may make manufacturers of potentially dangerous products more aware of the effect their negligence can have on ordinary people and their families. The goal, after all, should be cars and other products that function as advertised – if the California judge’s decision has brought us a small step closer to that ideal, then it deserves our praise.

Los Angeles Times: Toyota can’t hide settlement terms, judge rules