TEXT OF INTERVIEW
BOB MOON: New legal headaches for Toyota: Seven insurance companies are suing the car maker. They’re going after money they paid to cover crashes they blame on sudden acceleration. The first word of this came in the Los Angeles Times, where reporter Ken Bensinger has been following Toyota’s troubles. He’s on the line with us now. Welcome.
KEN BENSINGER: Thank you for having me.
MOON: So we have this new tactical shift in how lawyers are going after Toyota. But we’ve been hearing that the whole Toyota sudden acceleration problem was really overblown. Do these lawsuits suggest otherwise?
BENSINGER: Yeah — I’d say it’s a little early to say that these things are overblown. Toyota had a big PR offensive for the last six months to suggest that. From what we’ve seen in the courts, that may not in fact be the case. A couple weeks ago the review of Toyota paid $10 million to settle one suit, and many think that may set the groundwork for many other such settlements or even verdicts.
MOON: What kind of scale are we talking here? How big a deal for Toyota are these lawsuits?
BENSINGER: It’s early to tell because it’s so early in the process. But in theory if these all go to trial and verdict we could be talking you know, hundreds of millions or even billions in legal costs and settlement costs for the automaker. Huge verdicts in auto cases are not unheard of. Of course, Toyota will do what it can to avoid verdicts, but lawyers will do everything they can to get as much as possible. The risk is rather large.
MOON: And either way it’s still bad press for Toyota going forward, is this going to to continue to chip away at Toyota’s market share here in the U.S.?
BENSINGER: It’s a good question. As you mentioned earlier the public has walked with the impression that maybe there was not a problem, because a lot of people who lost family members in accidents involving these cars or had life changing accidents as well that would beg to differ. The question is whether the public hears that message anymore, or are they tired of this story. And the reality is I think there’s more to come out and there are still investigations going on and there’s still a lot of questions having to be answered. Many people feel that they haven’t really been given a satisfactory explanation on the problem, when they see outlying cases that can’t be explained by the recalls Toyota has undertaken.
MOON: Ken Bensinger reports for the Los Angeles Times, thanks for joining us.
BENSINGER: My pleasure.
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