In what is likely the largest criminal fine against a car company to date, Japanese automobile manufacturer, Toyota Motors, has agreed to pay $1.2 billion to the United States Department of Justice for its cover up of the defects in its Lexus model cars that are linked to the deaths of five individuals.
In 2009, Toyota-manufactured motor vehicles, particularly certain models of the make Lexus, were first recalled for problems with unintended acceleration. A massive investigation by the Department of Justice revealed that the acceleration problems, particularly sticky gas pedals causing run-away vehicles, were not reported when first discovered by Toyota executives. In fact, Toyota made massive efforts to cover up the problems and avoid recalls. At least five people have died in car accidents linked to unintended acceleration of Toyota cars after the company discovered the issue internally.
Department of Justice officials stated that Toyota executives made the decision to protect the company’s image by avoiding recalls. But this decision may have meant death for some of Toyota’s customers and others on the road. The massive fine reflects the shifting values of the corporate landscape where companies that place profits ahead of the lives of their customers cannot be tolerated.
Unlike many other similar settlements with the government, in this settlement, Toyota executives will be forced to concede that Toyota’s conduct was criminal. Investigation into the criminal behavior of individuals within Toyota will continue, and the company itself is still not immune from prosecution. Toyota’s payment of the fine, and continued cooperation with the government, will only buy the company three more years of a promise by federal authorities not to prosecute.
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