Toyota, Justice Department Reach Settlement On Recall

The Justice Department announced Wednesday that it has reached a billion-dollar agreement with Toyota, settling a federal probe into the company's handling of a recall for faulty gas pedals.

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DAVID GREENE, HOST:

We're going to shift now to some news out this morning. The U.S. Justice Department has reached a huge settlement of over a billion dollars with Toyota over how the automaker handled a recall of vehicles that had unintended acceleration.

To tell us more about this, we're joined by NPR's Brian Naylor. And Brian, this is a whole lot of money. Can you explain how the settlement is working?

BRIAN NAYLOR, BYLINE: It is, David - $1.2 billion announced by Attorney General Eric Holder and Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx, the largest criminal penalty ever levied against an auto company. It surrounds, as you say, the problem that Toyota cars had in the early 2000s with unintended acceleration. There were several deaths reported as a result of cars suddenly taking off, seemingly out of control. So Toyota has agreed after a prosecution by the U.S. Attorney's Office and the Justice Department to pay $1.2 billion. There will be an external monitor to oversee the company's adherence to the settlement. The attorney general said that Toyota's conduct was shameful.

GREENE: So is the prosecution over now with the settlement?

NAYLOR: Well, the prosecution is put on hiatus, basically...

GREENE: OK.

NAYLOR: ...as long as Toyota lives up to the details of the agreement. There will be an external monitor appointed to make sure the company lives up to its end of the deal.

GREENE: One of the interesting things here, Brian, that this is about, we should say, how Toyota handled all of these questions. Separately, there's still questions about whether there was actually anything structurally wrong, an actual defect with these vehicles, right?

NAYLOR: Right. Let me just take you back. There were reports that Toyotas were suddenly accelerating. There was a case in California where an off-duty highway patrol officer was in a borrowed Lexus and it took off at over 120 miles an hour reportedly, and he and his family members were killed. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration launched an investigation. There were congressional hearings. And a lot of the speculation centered on the gas pedals and the accelerator assembly. But they were never able to determine there were any faults with that assembly. Instead, they put the blame on floor mats, which apparently would become untethered and slide into the accelerator and press the gas pedal down into position.

GREENE: This is actually about how the automaker was responding to all of these problems.

NAYLOR: Yeah, yeah. Attorney General Holder talked about Toyota intentionally making misleading public statements, concealing from consumers the details of the problems, the delaying of full recall, and said that the company treated this as a public relations problem rather than a public safety emergency.

GREENE: All right. We've been speaking to NPR's Brian Naylor, talking to us about the government settlement - a billion-dollar settlement with Toyota over its handling of recall of vehicles that had unintended acceleration. Brian, thanks a lot.

NAYLOR: Thanks, David.

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