More than 100 owners have complained about their floor mat, concerns that prompted Toyota Motors to launch a recall for some models two years ago. A floor mat may have played a part in a horrific accident in Santee that killed an off-duty CHP officer and three of his family members, an incident that may have caused the automaker to focus more attention on the defect.
On Wednesday, attorney Craig McClellan said Toyota and Lexus could have acted faster to alert motorists to this safety problem. He said that the first reaction of major corporations is to deny the problem.
McClellan, a product liability specialist who has won major lawsuits against carmakers, also said the cost of a recall is a roadblock for automakers.
"It's an expensive, really expensive proposition," McClellan said. "This recall is 3.8 million cars. It's a tremendous expense."
The lawyer also said that federal safety inspectors who work for the Department of Transportation could have acted sooner. But, he said, federal inspectors complain they are overworked and understaffed. McClellan said federal agencies also get pressure from carmakers when the agencies raise safety concerns.
"The government is pretty much ineffective in getting vehicles recalled," McClellan said. "There has to be some other impetus, something else that gets people to react, that gets political pressure, that gets something done."
MeClellan said Toyota and Lexus owners should follow the recall instructions and safety warnings, even if they haven't had any problems with their driver's side floor mat.
"They don't think it's going to be their vehicle, and the odds are, it probably won't be," McClellan said. "But the fact is, it could be. So why take that risk when the means of preventing it is so simple?"
One auto industry expert said he believed Toyota Motors will survive the situation because the company has an excellent reputation for safety and dependability.