It seems class-action craziness will only accelerate
So how do I duck a lawsuit? Is there some crafty guy I must avoid, the kind who suckers me into holding an envelope and then sneers “You’ve been served”?
Or perhaps the notice will be brought to my door in the small hours by one of Canada Post’s new night-shift carriers.
But then, given that the source of this lawsuit I expect is, yikes, General Motors, maybe what I should most fear is the arrival of a Cadillac-load of lawyers. They’ll block my driveway until I take their blasted paperwork.
Lawyers, we all understand, know opportunity when they see it.
And there’s big opportunity in car company litigation, as proven by this week’s news that Toyota agreed to spend at least $1.1 billion to settle a huge U.S. class-action suit over claims the Japanese automaker’s products accelerate without cause.
The settlement will provide payments to owners of some 16 million Toyota, Lexus and Scion models sold from 1998 to 2010. And it comes despite Toyota’s insistence that no fault was ever found in its electronic throttle system, and that most cases of stuck gas pedals were probably caused by scrunched-up floor mats. Toyota recalled more than 10 million vehicles between 2009 and 2011 to install new mats and accelerator assemblies.
But this cash isn’t meant as compensation for those injured or killed when their gas pedals stuck and they lacked the wits to jam on the brake (which will stop a car even at full throttle) or shift into neutral. Those suits are separate.
No, this is to mollify those owners who claimed the value of their cars diminished because of the recalls and surrounding publicity.
We have to feel for them. Remember those forlorn fields of late-model Camrys, abandoned by their owners? Remember those buy-a-Lada-and-get-two-free Corollas promotions at the used lots?
Except that never happened. In the razor-sharp used car market, where value is computed by mileage and maintenance history and, especially, observed reliability, used Toyotas continued to find quick homes. And, just as German automaker Audi survived its own bout of sudden acceleration hysteria in the 1980s, Toyota the new carmaker emerged from the storm. This week it predicted it will sell a record 9.7 million cars this year, and even more next year.
Eight Toyota and Lexus models — the most for any single automaker — took awards in J.D. Power’s 2012 Vehicle Dependability Study. Six of 10 categories in a new Consumer Reports ranking released this week were led by Toyota and Lexus products.
But what matters is that someone felt a case could be made — or at least presented — millions of car owners signed on (hey, why not?) and that Toyota decided it made better business sense to settle than fight.
Remember those forlorn fields of late-model Camrys, abandoned by their owners? Remember those buy-a-Lada-and-get-two-free Corollas promotions at the used lots?
Used to be that we could dismiss such events as a U.S. deal. But now this country gets its share of classaction craziness. Toyota Canada, for instance, faces a number of “ongoing” actions over sudden acceleration.
And no sooner had Hyundai disclosed that it had overstated its fuel economy by an average three per cent — and that it would pay owners for the extra gas they used plus provide an extra sum for inconvenience — but class actions were started in Ontario, British Columbia and other provinces. The law firms behind them may not be able to prove any real losses for Hyundai owners, but they will no doubt be able to itemize their fees.
Yet this, I fear, can cut two ways. What if consumers get more than expected value from purchases? What if GM’s legal team scours the automaker’s records and discovers that the Saturn LW station wagon I bought new in 2000 remains in the family’s employ? And that it’s been remarkably trouble-free and in fact looks like new, or at least as new as any car can look after 12 Ottawa winters?
Obviously, I should have paid more. Obviously, I owe GM money.
But maybe there’s a way to settle this. I’ll promise not to sue any automaker who promises not to sue me.
The lawyers will handle the paperwork.