Toyota Pays Largest Criminal Penalty on Auto Makers in US History

Toyota must pay more than $1 billion in a settlement the Department of Justice announced Wednesday over the company’s response to consumer complaints stemming from 2009 and 2010 incidents involving sudden acceleration issues in several models.

The company also has been charged with criminal wire fraud, officials said, alleging that Toyota put out “misleading statements” about safety issues in Toyota and Lexus cars.

“Toyota confronted a public safety emergency as if it were simply a public relations problem,” Attorney General Eric Holder said in announcing what he called the largest criminal penalty levied against a car company in U.S. history, totaling $1.2 billion. “They mounted this cover up despite widely documented incidents, and even tragic accidents, like the one that took the lives of an off-duty California Highway Patrol officer and members of his family.”

The unintended acceleration issue generated hundreds of lawsuits and prompted Toyota to recall millions of automobiles beginning in 2009.The automaker was first subpoenaed by the Manhattan U.S. Attorney’s office in 2010.

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