On June 10, 2019, Connecticut Federal District Court Judge Victor Bolden granted final approval to a $40 million settlement between Toyota and class action plaintiffs who assert that safety issues with the rear power sliding doors of Toyota’s Sienna minivans place passengers at risk of injury or worse. DiCello Levitt Gutzler LLC co-founding partner Adam Levitt served as co-lead counsel along with W. Daniel “Dee” Miles, III of Beasley Allen, and Demet Basar of Wolf Haldenstein. DiCello Levitt partner John Tangren and associate Dan Ferri played crucial and instrumental roles in litigating this case toward its favorable resolution.
“Automakers, more than almost any other type of company, hold the public’s trust in their hands. When defects exist in vehicles—like with the Toyota Sienna here—that place American families at risk, those companies need to be held accountable. Here, through the class action process, Toyota worked with us to resolve these safety issues while providing a meaningful remedy for affected families.”
The safety issues implicated in this litigation involve the latches, hinges, cables, and motor circuitry that control movement, latching, and locking of the power sliding doors. The problem can cause the sliding doors to grind and pop during operation, spontaneously open without any input from the occupants, stall out and freeze during operation, and give the appearance of being latched when they are in fact not – a dangerous status not evident to the occupants.
Sienna owners and lessees have filed hundreds of complaints with the National Highway Transportation Administration (NHTSA) and with Toyota dealerships regarding door malfunction. In response, Toyota issued three Technical Service Bulletins (TSBs) from May 2011 forward and instituted a national Safety Recall in November 2016. The TSBs and Safety Recall G04 informed auto dealers of the door failures, but only offered a partial (electrical) solution. For instance, despite receiving G04 Recall repairs, many Siennas continued to suffer (mechanical) door malfunctions as the recall failed to offer a complete fix.
During the course of this litigation, co-lead counsel and their experts discovered what initially appeared to be a highly complex computer related breakdown was, in fact, a rather basic mechanical weakness. Evidence revealed that the door failures were caused mainly from corrosion and wear due to exposure to contaminants such as road salt, salty coastal air, water, and road grit.
The settlement incorporates—and far exceeds—the G04 Recall, and provides two distinct types of relief. The first, Toyota will create a Customer Confidence Program for Class Members that offers free dealership inspection of their Siennas’ sliding doors and on an as-needed basis: replacement of latches, locks, hinges, cable sub-assemblies and fuel door assemblies. These replacement parts and the G04 Recall efforts are warranted for ten years from the date of their first use and the Customer Confidence program travels with the car, meaning subsequent owners are also protected. While the second is reimbursement for prior out of pocket repair costs associated with the failed components. Class Members whose vehicles’ power sliding doors require repair will receive a complementary loaner vehicle.
DiCello Levitt and Beasley Allen filed their class action lawsuit in June 2017, in the United States District Court for the District of California, Western Division on behalf of owners and lessees of 2011-2017 Toyota Sienna minivans (the Combs action).U.S. Later that same month, a similar class action was filed in the United States District Court for the District of Connecticut (the Simerlein action). For months, the two cases progressed independently until DiCello Levitt and Beasley Allen, and the plaintiffs’ attorneys in the Simerlein action consolidated their cases. This coordinated effort resulted in the parties reaching a jointly proposed settlement in December 2018. Following a January 2019 hearing, Judge Bolden preliminarily approved a global settlement agreement, reached on behalf of all U.S. purchasers and lessees of an estimated 1.3 million 2011-2018 Siennas. Shortly thereafter, U.S. District Judge Virginia Phillips stayed the Combs action pending final approval of the Simerlein class settlement, which occurred on June 10, 2019.