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Foul, moldy smells from AC vents threaten health of Toyota owners, lawsuits claim

Ron Hurtibise, South Florida Sun Sentinel on

Published in Automotive News

In the Miami decision, U.S. Judge Frederico Moreno followed a magistrate’s recommendation not to grant Toyota’s motion for summary judgment that would have dismissed the complaint filed on behalf of two lead plaintiffs in the case. The decision, which allows the case to proceed to trial, also threw out charges by a third plaintiff because she did not purchase her Toyota from an authorized dealer.

Both South Florida suits were filed against Toyota Motor Corp., its USA sales division, and Southeast Toyota Distributors LLC. The 2018 suit also names Toyota’s engineering and manufacturing arm as a defendant.

The suits claim that Toyota has known about and failed to repair the defects for years and conspired with Southeast Toyota to conceal the defects to protect the Toyota brand and to avoid repairs and buybacks under the Florida Lemon Laws — all in violation of state laws barring deceptive and unfair trade practices and the federal Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) Act.

In one example, Toyota distributed a misleading Technical Service Bullet that dealers used to inform complaining owners that the odors were “naturally occurring and could not be repaired, under warranty or otherwise,” the 2018 suit alleged.

Owners claimed they suffered economic harm because they paid more for their vehicles than they would have paid if the defect had been disclosed.

Toyota has long known about the defect, U.S. Magistrate Judge Lauren F. Louis concurred in her recommendation to allow the 2018 suit to move forward on the basis that the plaintiffs presented “evidence sufficient to support their theory of intent to defraud.”

 

A 1997 Technical Service Bulletin acknowledged the presence of microbial growth in the air conditioning system’s evaporator caused by dampness in some vehicles operated in areas with high temperatures and humidity.

Technical service bulletins in 2009 and 2011 acknowledged that a newly designed evaporator would decrease the potential for odor from the air conditioning system.

But beginning in 2013, service bulletins informed dealers that the odors were normal, naturally occurring and related to environmental factors, Louis noted. A 2013 bulletin provided procedures to minimize odors but noted they would not eliminate them.

Despite those messages to dealers, Toyota knew the odors could be eliminated by redesigning the air conditioning system, Louis’ report stated.

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