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Class Actions in Context

Class Actions in Context

How Culture, Economics and Politics Shape Collective Litigation

Edited by Deborah R. Hensler, Christopher Hodges and Ianika Tzankova

In recent years collective litigation procedures have spread across the globe, accompanied by hot controversy and normative debate. Yet virtually nothing is known about how these procedures operate in practice. Based on extensive documentary and interview research, this volume presents the results of the first comparative investigation of class actions and group litigation ‘in action’, in the Americas, Europe, Asia and the Middle East.

Chapter 5: The promise and peril of media and culture: The Toyota unintended acceleration litigation and the Gulf Coast Claims Facility in the United States

Byron Stier

Subjects: law - academic, arbitration and dispute resolution, comparative law, consumer law, law and society, law of obligations


The Toyota unintended acceleration litigation and the BP Gulf Coast Claims Fund in the United States (US) each display the difficulties and opportunities presented by media and culture for mass litigation and dispute resolution. In August 2009, far-reaching media exposure publicized claims that Toyota automobiles were accelerating unintentionally and causing serious and sometimes fatal accidents. American media attention galvanized regulatory oversight by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), as well as hearings by the US Congress, and Toyota recalled millions of automobiles in connection with floor mats and pedal mechanisms. Subsequently, the plaintiffs filed hundreds of claims against Toyota in state and federal courts in the US, alleging widespread problems with Toyota’s electronic throttle control system. In 2011, a report by NHTSA found no problems with Toyota’s electronic throttle system that could cause complaints of unintended acceleration. Instead, NHTSA determined that acceleration complaints likely stemmed from pedal misapplication by the driver, except for exceedingly rare instances of acceleration from pedal entrapment by a floor mat or a slow-returning accelerator pedal. A 2012 report from the National Academy of Sciences supported the conclusions of the NHTSA report. In 2013, a federal court granted final approval to a settlement of more than $1 billion between Toyota and a class of Toyota owners seeking to recoup economic losses from reduced vehicle value due to the risk of unintended acceleration.

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