Personal Injury Legal Cases
1998 Toyota 4Runner Rollover Leads To Catastrophic Head Injury, Wrongful Death
STATE OF NORTH CAROLINA
COUNTY OF DURHAM
ANGELA BACHMAN, PERSONAL
REPRESENTATIVE OF THE ESTATE
OF JEFFREY BACHMAN, Plaintiff,
TOYOTA MOTOR CORPORATION,
TOYOTA MOTOR SALES U.S.A, INC.,
A CALIFORNIA CORPORATION, Defendants.
IN THE GENERAL COURT OF JUSTICE
SUPERIOR COURT DIVISION
CASE NO.: 10CV002375
JURY TRIAL DEMANDED
COMES NOW Plaintiff, Angela Bachman, Personal Representative of the Estate of Jeffrey Bachman against Toyota Motor Corporation, Toyota Motor Sales U.S.A., Inc., and for causes of action and in the amount as set forth below, alleges as follows:
- Plaintiff, ANGELA BACHMAN, as personal representative of the Estate of Jeffrey Bachman, individually, is a natural person and was and is currently residing and domiciled at 47 Banner Springs Circle, Stafford, Virginia 22554 and was appointed as Administrator of the Estate by the Prince William County, Virginia Circuit Court on May 22, 2008. Plaintiff Angela Bachman was appointed ancillary personal representative of the Estate of Jeffrey Bachman by the Clerk of Superior Court, Durham County, North Carolina, on March~, 2010.
- Defendant TOYOTA MOTOR CORPORATION was, and is, a corporation duly organized and existing by and under the laws of Japan with a principal place of business in the City of Tokyo, Japan, and was and is a corporation qualified and/or authorized to do business in the State of Virginia, and was at all times herein mentioned, doing business within the State of North Carolina.
- Defendant TOYOTA MOTOR SALES U.S.A, INC. was and is a corporation duly organized and existing pursuant to the laws of the State of California, with its principal place of business in the City of Torrance, County of Los Angeles, State of California.
- At all times herein mentioned, defendants TOYOTA MOTOR CORPORATION (hereinafter hTMC"), was and is a corporation duly organized and existing under the laws of Japan with a principal place of business in the City of Tokyo, Japan. TOYOTA MOTOR SALES, U.S.A, INC., a California Corporation (hereinafter "TMS"), was and is a corporation duly organized and existing under the laws of the State of California, with a principal place of business in the County of Los Angeles.
- On information and belief, Defendant TMC designed, manufactured, assembled, tested, inspected, serviced, repaired, distributed, marketed, warranted, advertised, made promises, and sold and delivered a certain motor vehicle, to wit, a 1998 Toyota 4Runner for distribution and sale in the United States, bearing VIN number JT3HN87ROW0135418, registered to the decedent Jeffrey Bachman in Virginia, bearing license plate PS 3667 (hereinafterSUBJECT4RUNNER), and placed said vehicle into the stream ofcommerce as a new vehicle in late 1997 through its dealership network.
- On information and belief, Defendants TMC and TMS designed, manufactured, assembled, tested, inspected, serviced, repaired, distributed, marketed, warranted, advertised, made promises, and sold and delivered the SUBJECT 4RUNNER, registered to the decedent Jeffrey Bachman in Virginia, and placed said vehicle into the stream of commerce as a new vehicle in late 1997 through its dealership network in the State of Virginia. Specifically, on or about December 3, 1997, Defendants TMC and TMS through one of their dealers in Virginia first distributed and sold the SUBJECT 4RUNNER to a customer in the Commonwealth of Virginia who thereafter used and maintained the SUBJECT 4RUNNER in Virginia. On or about June 29, 1999, the SUBJECT 4RUNNER was re-sold to a second owner in the District of Columbia where it was maintained and used until it was sold to a third owner in the District of Columbia on or about June 29, 2001 where it was maintained and used until it was sold to Jeffrey Bachman in Virginia in early August 2002. From August 2002, the SUBJECT 4RUNNER was used and maintained in Virginia until the time of the accident in April 2008. At no time prior to April 13, 2008, had the SUBJECT4RUNNER been distributed, sold, purchased, owned or maintained in the State of North Carolina.
- On or about April 13, 2008, while being operated in a prudent and reasonable manner, decedent Jeffrey Bachman's SUBJECT 4RUNNER unexpectedly, and without warning, began to yaw and roll over on the paved surface ofinterstate 1-95 in Cumberland, North Carolina, as decedent was returning home to Virginia. As a direct result of this incident, he sustained massive and devastating head injuries resulting in his death.
- As a result of his untimely death. decedent left surviving him the following legal heirs. All heirs were dependent upon the decedent for financial support, love, guidance, companionship and related services.
- Plaintiff realleges and incorporates by reference each of paragraphs 1 through 11, above, as though fully set forth herein.
- At all relevant times, Defendants TMC and TMS, in placing the SUBJECT 4RUNNER product in the stream of commerce expressly and impliedly warranted, guaranteed and promised that the vehicle was merchantable and was reasonably safe for the ordinary purposes of its intended use, and plaintiffs' decedent herein relied, to his detriment, upon said warranties and promises in purchasing the SUBJECT 4RUNNER.
- On or about April 13, 2008, at approximately 12:56 p.m. decedent Jeffrey Bachman was operating and driving the SUBJECT4RUNNER northbound at the legal speed limit on interstate 1-95 in Cumberland, North Carolina, in the manner intended for its use, in a prudent and reasonable way, when he began to cross from the number I lane into the number 2 lane, at which time he attempted to steer the SUBJECT 4RUNNER back into the number I lane. In so doing, through no fault of his own, as a result of a dynamic oversteer condition resulting from the SUBJECT 4RUNNER's inherent directional and lateral instability, it suddenly and unexpectedly began to yaw counter-clockwise and then began to roll over on the highway.
- The SUBJECT 4RUNNER was unreasonably dangerous even under such normal and reasonably foreseeable use as stated herein when it left the TMC factory. as a direct result of which, Plaintiffs decedent sustained fatal head injuries when the vehicle rolled over into and across the center guardrail, causing the roof to crush, the glass to break out and exposing decedent to nonsurvivable trauma.
- Defendants TMC and TMS, through theirown in-house testing, knew for many years priorto production of the SUBJECT4RUNNER that the vehicle was both directionally and laterally unstable and prone to roll over at very low speeds, in the 35 mile per hour range. The Defendants knew that the center of gravity ("CG") was unacceptably high and that the track width ("TW") was unacceptably narrow which greatly contributed to the directional and lateral instability of the SUBJECT 4RUNNER and which greatly increased the risk and likelihood of rollover events occurring even during normal, reasonable and foreseeable driving such as occurred herein. The defendants further knew that the poorly designed suspension system, lack of electronic stability control technology, lack of side curtain airbags, and inadequate warnings issued with the vehicle would contribute significantly to rollover injury death events.
- For several years prior to the subject accident date, TMC and/or TMS had conducted numerous handling and stability tests, including, but not limited to, TSA-1544 testing to evaluate rollover resistence performance of the 4Runner, which were documented and showed that one and two wheel lift was occurring on certain models of the 4Runner at even surface street speeds in the 30-40 mile per hour range, yet both TMC and TMS failed to recall the 4Runner (although TMCffMS did attempt a partial fix with the addition of a hollow spring on certain models), or adequately attempt to issue further warnings to consumers such as Plaintiffs decedent herein.
- Plaintiffs further allege that defendants knew and were aware at the time of manufacture of the SUBJECT 4RUNNER that:
- The SUBJECT 4RUNNER had a statistical rollover death rate equal to that of the Suzuki Samurai, a known defective vehicle;
- The SUBJECT 4RUNNER had the same SSF as the Toyota Land Cruiser, another of the defendants' vehicles known to have a low SSF and a resulting propensity to roll over on flat, level surfaces;
- Defendants by and through their officers, directors and agents, including but not limited to national merchandising manager, Mr. Cecconi and Senior Staff Engineer, Mr. Yonekawa, had marketed the SUBJECT 4RUNNER, to attract purchasers who were older, wealthier drivers intending to use the vehicle for commuting as well as for outdoor activities, which potential purchasers and users believed that the 4RUNNER's height was a safety factor in regard to better visibility, yet such marketing and advertising did not disclose the heightened rollover risk attributable to such increased vehicular height; defendants and their agents, officers and directors, further created a marketing and advertising campaign at or about the time of manufacture of said vehicle, including but not limited to, television commercials and print media depicting the 4RUNNER performing maneuvers which, under certain conditions well known to the defendants, were likely to cause the vehicle to lose lateral control and rollover or tip up, and thereafter consciously failed and refused to warn consumers of such risks;
- Defendants, by and through their officers, directors and agents, including but not limited to Senior Staff Engineer, Mr. Yonekawa, knew and were fully aware that the 1998 4RUNNER was susceptible to roll over, tip up, reduced roll over resistance as of and before 1984, due to the defendants' performance of rollover resistance testing on 4RUNNERS and vehicles of other manufacture. Prior to the manufacture of the SUBJECT 4RUNNER, Toyota knew that its 4RUNNER model failed stability tests, and in fact, was listed as the number 2 most likely vehicle of its class to rollover in the five state study undertaken and/or described in the Federal Registry. TOYOTA DEFENDANTS, by and through their engineers, management or others, developed tests, including, TSA-1544 and TSZ5100G, also called "fish hook" turn tests, to determine the likelihood of rollover, wherein vehicles of other manufactures as well as 4RUNNERS were tested on pre set steering and brake inputs. The 4RUNNER failed Toyota's own in-house test with rollover, and/or two wheel tip-up, occurring at speeds as low as 32 miles per hour. In addition, defendants knew that similar vehicles of other manufactures, such as the Jeep Cherokee and Chevrolet S-lO, did not rollover, tip-up or have two wheel lift under the "fish hook" turn test. Despite these in-house test failures, both TMC and TMS failed to recall the product or adequately attempt to issue further warnings to consumers such as plaintiffs' decedent herein.
- Thereafter, Toyota redesigned its "fish hook" turn test to test for the "lateral acceleration" necessary to cause two wheel lift, and in part, because the 4RUNNER could not pass Toyota's initial in-house test where as the Jeep Cherokee and Chevrolet S-l0 could pass said original "fish hook" turn test. The redesigned testing of the 1996 and later model 4RUNNER still resulted in roll over and/or two wheel tip up, at speeds of 36 miles per hour, in violation of Toyota's in-house design specifications and requirements. Despite this knowledge that the 4RUNNER did not comply with internal standards for rollover resistance and/or rollover standards, and that the SUBJECT 4RUNNER would likely tip-up, rollover and/or otherwise lose control in reasonably foreseeable maneuvers on level dry pavement, including, but not limited to: evasive maneuvers, cornering at reasonably foreseeable speeds, or any other steering imputes requiring responsive turning at speeds less than 40 miles per hour, defendants continue to market and manufacture the 4RUNNER, intentionally withholding this knowledge and failed to warn purchasers of the vehicle's propensity to tip-up and/or rollover.
- Defendants deliberately, intentionally and falsely, failed to disclose the results of the failed testing and instead, in response to the failed testing performed by defendants, implemented newly designed tests, modified the prior tests and/ or implemented recalibrated tests to make it appear that the 4RUNNER was not susceptible to rollover, and/or two wheel tip-up, when performing anticipated maneuvers on dry, paved surfaces, when in fact defendants knew and were fully aware that the 4RUNNER was susceptible to rollover, tip-up, and reduced rollover resistance before 1984.
- In addition, in order to advance the defendants' pecumary interests, despite defendants' full knowledge ofthe 4RUNNER's susceptibility to rollover and tip-up, and its reduced rollover resistance, when equipped with Toyota's standard wheel and tire package, defendants intentionally and deliberately under-produced the standard wheel and tire package so that purchasers of the 4RUNNER would purchase the upgraded, larger wheel and tire package, which larger wheel and tire package defendants knew and were fully aware would increase the 4RUNNER's propensity to rollover and tip-up due to the fact that the larger tires would raise the center of gravity thereby decreasing the already insufficient lateral and roll stability necessary to keep the vehicle upright during cornering and handling by an ordinary driver during reasonable foreseeable roadway and traffic conditions.
- Defendants further knew and were fully aware that certain design modifications, including but not limited to lowering the 4RUNNER's center of gravity and/or widening its track width to increase rollover resistance, would have improved resistance to improved stability; yet defendants and each of them consciously decided not to utilize such known and available design modifications in order to advance the defendants' pecuniary interests.
- At all relevant times, Plaintiffs decedent was unaware of the hidden design defects in the vehicle which rendered it unreasonably dangerous for its intended use.
- Defendants TMC and TMS further designed, manufactured, assembled, warranted, promised, and sold an unreasonably dangerous vehicle in that the inadequate roof strength, headers, and A, B, C and D pillars, as well as the use of tempered glass in the side windows and lack of side curtain air bags were known to these defendants to enhance and greatly increase the likelihood of severe and fatal injuries due to partial ejection in the event of a rollover, thereby adding significant additional danger to users ofthe product. Additional defects in the SUBJECT VEHICLE which were an integral factor in, and a material part of, the breach of warranty by defendants included:
- Defectively designing the vehicle from a handling and stability standpoint;
- Defectively designing the vehicle with poor rollover resistance;
- Defectively designing the vehicle from an occupant protection standpoint;
- Defectively designing the vehicle from an occupant containment standpoint;
- Defective testing of the vehicle from a handling and stability standpoint;
- Defectively designing the vehicle's side windows;
- Defectively failing to test the vehicle to ensure the design provided reasonable occupant protection and occupant containment in the event of a rollover;
- Failing to adequately train and assist dealers in the dangers associated with the vehicle;
- Failing to disclose known problems and defects;
- Defectively marketing the vehicle as a safe and stable passenger vehicle;
- Failing to meet or exceed internal corporate guidelines;
- Defectively designing the vehicle from a marketing standpoint;
- Failing to inform consumers including Plaintiff, of information that Defendants TMC and TMS, knew about rollover risk in Toyota 4Runners, thus depriving Plaintiff s decedent of the right to make an informed, conscious and free choice;
- Failing to equip the vehicle in question with glass that would resist shattering during a rollover;
- Failing to minimize the risk that occupants would not be ejected or partially ejected from the vehicle during a rollover;
- Failing to minimize the risk that belted passengers would not be ejected or partially ejected from a vehicle during a rollover;
- Failing to test the glass in question to ensure safety during a rollover; and r. Failing to equip the subject vehicle with roof rail mounted side curtain airbags.
- As a direct result of the breach of warranty of fitness herein the next of kin of the decedent including, the six (6) children of the decedent has suffered substantialloss of financial support, loss of love, companionship, affection, society, and advice, as have all of the legal heirs of Jeffrey Bachman.
- In addition, plaintiffs decedent Jeffrey Bachman survived for a period oftime and was rendered medical aid and support prior to his death for a period of time prior to being pronounced at the hospital.
- Accordingly, plaintiff as representative ofhis estate is entitled to additional damages for the conscious pre-death pain and suffering of decedent together with the medical costs incurred for his care and treatment, in a sum to be determined.
- Plaintiff realleges and incorporates by reference each of paragraphs 1 through 20, above, as though fully set forth herein.
- Defendants TMC and TMS fraudulently and willfully and wantonly concealed the true character and quality of the 3rd Generation 4Runner and made intentionally false and fraudulent statements about the 4RUNNER and specifically the SUBJECT 4RUNNER through marketing, advertising, and promotional materials, by expressly and impliedly warranting that the SUBJECT 4RUNNER was safe for its intended purpose. The false and fraudulent statements included express misrepresentations of material fact concerning the character and quality of the product, materials used in its construction, and in the testing of the SUBJECT 4RUNNER.
- Plaintiff and decedent Jeffrey Bachman justifiably relied upon these false misrepresentations and had no reasonable ability to discover the fraudulently and willfully and wantonly concealed and affirmatively false information given to them by Defendants.
- The fraudulent acts and statements of the Defendants included the following:
- Falsely stating at page i of the Owner's Manual "We are proud of the advanced engineering and quality construction of each vehicle we build" when Defendants knew that the SUBJECT VEHICLE not only lacked "advanced engineering" but did not have even the most "basic safety engineering" in that it lacked a safely engineered lower center of gravity, had too narrow a width, or tread, and too high a roof so as to make the vehicle extremely unstable and prone to rolling over on the highways at speeds as low as 33 mph, as demonstrated prior to the accident date by Toyota's own testing; in lacking readily available "advanced engineering" such as Electronic Stability Control, which DEFENDANTS knew would prevent the type of rollover event that killed plaintiffs decedent and which DEFENDANTS had previously installed in numerous other TOYOTA and LEXUS vehicles as far back as 1995, both in the U.S. and in Japan; in failing to have "quality construction" as claimed by using weak and inferior gauge steel and inadequate strength support structures in the headers, roof rails and A and B posts despite readily available technology and materials to do so, especially in the SUBJECT VEHICLE where the very high risk of rollovers and roof crush was well-known to DEFENDANTS; in failing to incorporate other "basic" or "advanced" engineering and "quality construction" such as readily available laminated glass for the side windows which, in combination with stronger roof supports and deeper window channels, would have contained occupants such as plaintiffs decedent and prevented partial ejection with resulting fatal head trauma, especially in the SUBJECT VEHICLE where the very high risk of rollovers and roof crush with shattering of tempered glass creating portals of ejection in the side windows was well-known to DEFENDANTS; in failing to incorporate "basic engineering" and "quality construction" including readily available seatbelt technology such as cinching latch plates which would have better restrained plaintiffs decedent and prevented vertical excursion toward and contact with the crushing and collapsing weak roof structure.
- Fraudulently and willfully and wantonly concealing and failing to disclose to the decedent, or other customers, that Defendants had conducted "accident avoidance maneuver" tests, which simulated the type of steering inputs made by decedent and demonstrated two wheel "tip ups" at speeds as low as 33 mph, and withholding this critical information from decedent by not revealing it in the Owner's Manual or anywhere else, thereby deliberately lulling consumers such as plaintiffs decedent into a false sense of security and inducing them to purchase the falsely advertised "advanced engineer(ed) and quality construct(ed)" SUBJECT VEHICLE, when defendants knew that it was one of the most unsafe vehicles on the roadway because of all of its inherent defects and instability;
- Fraudulently and willfully and want only mis-stating, and deliberately minimizing the likelihood of rollovers on page 139 of the Owner's Manual by stating "(a) void sharp turns or abrupt maneuvers, if at all possible. As with other vehicles of this type, failure to operate this vehicle correctly may result in loss of control or vehicle rollover" when defendants knew that there would be everyday, common driving occurrences such as accident avoidance maneuvers, or road recovery maneuvers, that would be unavoidable and, given the inherent defects in the design and construction of the SUBJECT VEHICLE would almost certainly result in rollovers with high morbidity and mortality rates which consumers and plaintiff s decedent would be unaware of; in concealing and failing to disclose that there was a "risk of serious personal injury" without mentioning the very real risk of death, as occurred herein, if "sharp turns or abrupt maneuvers" resulted "in loss of control or vehicle rollover", when Defendants for a long period of time prior to this incident knew of fatalities caused by 4RUNNER rollovers, thereby concealing and minimizing the true risk of harm to persons such as decedent;
- Fraudulently and willfully and wantonly failing to define "abrupt maneuvers" or to warn consumers such as decedent that "abrupt" accident avoidance maneuvers would naturally be expected to occur but that such driving conduct could result in a sudden and deadly rollover, as occurred herein, while hiding from consumers the substantial defects in stability and control, weak and inadequate roof strength, lack of protective laminated glass in the side windows, absence of readily available ESC, and lack of latching cinch plate safer seat belt technology all of which defendants knew had caused high statistical morbidity and mortality in prior 4Runner rollovers, thereby deliberately lulling consumers such as plaintiffs decedent into a false sense of security and inducing them to purchase the falsely advertised "advanced engineer(ed) and quality construct(ed)" SUBJECT VEHICLE, when defendants knew that it was one of the most unsafe vehicles on the roadway because of all of its inherent defects and instability;
- Fraudulently and willfully and wantonly depicting, on page 32 of the Owner's Manual, a 4RUNNER in a "rollover" position showing no appreciable roof crush, or partial ejection of occupants, in order to deliberately mislead decedent and other consumers into believing such an event, if it occurred, would not pose any increased risk of harm, or death, even though Defendants were well aware for many years ofroofcrush, partial ejections, and fatalities occurring in 4RUNNER rollovers which only the defendants knew were the result of all of the aforementioned defects in design and construction of the 4 Runner thereby deliberately lulling consumers such as plaintiff's decedent into a false sense of security and inducing them to purchase the falsely advertised "advanced engineer(ed) and quality construct(ed)"SUBJECT VEHICLE, when defendants knew that it was one of the most unsafe vehicles on the roadway because of all of its inherent defects and instability;
- Plaintiffs decedent received the Owner's manual in the vehicle when he purchased it, and he read and relied upon all of the false and fraudulent statements and fraudulently and willfully and wantonly omitted safety information in buying and driving the 4RUNNER. Solely as a result of the fraudulent statements, misrepresentations and omissions of the defendants, which plaintiff and plaintiffs decedent relied upon, plaintiffs decedent sustained severe and fatal head injuries, all to plaintiffs' detriment in a sum to be determined for pre-death pain and suffering, medical and funeral expenses and wrongful death damages.
- The fraudulent conduct of defendants set forth above was of such a willful and wanton nature as to evidence a total disregard and indifference for the life, health and safety of consumers, and decedent herein, such that plaintiffs are entitled to an award of punitive damages against defendants.
- The conduct alleged above constitutes fraudulent and/or willful or wanton conduct within the meaning of N.C. Gen. Stat. § 10-15. Managers of the defendants participated in or condoned the conduct constituting the fraudulent and/or willful or wanton conduct.
GENERAL ALLEGATIONS AS TO ALL COUNTS
BREACH OF EXPRESS AND IMPLIED WARRANTIES
WHEREFORE, plaintiff prays:
- That the Court award compensatory damages jointly and severally against the Defendants in an amount in excess of $10,000.
- That the Court award punitive damages in am amount in excess of S10,000,
- Costs of this suit be taxed to Defendants.
- All questions of fact be determined by a jury.
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