Toyota is facing the possibility of a sanction thanks to actions that "cast a cloud of suspicion," according to a federal judge.
In the first national sudden acceleration court case, Toyota received a tentative sanction from a federal judge on Wednesday because the company's decision to inspect the vehicle of a fatal car crash without contacting the victims' lawyer "cast a cloud of suspicion" over their inspection, the National Law Journal reports. The judge wrote that Toyota had violated his order to preserve the car's data, though he did not find evidence of Toyota of tampering with the data. He has yet to decide whether to issue an official sanction or, if so, what the penalties would be.
"It is clear that Toyota understood it was in a pre-litigation phase when it inspected the Van Alfen vehicle," U.S. District Judge James Selna wrote in his tentative order, according to the National Law Journal. "It is equally clear that Toyota understood that the Van Alfen family was represented by counsel.... They were simply not given the opportunity to be present."
Toyota faces nearly 200 lawsuits related to sudden acceleration accidents and deaths. The case in which the decision was issued on Wednesday was the first to be heard. The case involves Paul Van Alfen, a Utah man, who crashed into a stone wall in 2010 after he allegedly wasn't able to break. He and his soon-to-be daughter-in-law were killed.
Toyota claimed in its court filing that the car's black box recorder shows that Val Alfen never braked, based on its inspection of the car. The sanction may be a sign that the judge is somewhat skeptical of Toyota's assertion.
Toyota withheld a key document from federal investigators showing that the company was aware of sudden acceleration on one type of car before it went to market, CNN reported in March.
Shinichi Sasaki, an executive vice president of Toyota, wrote in an e-mail that Toyota had colored the truth when the sudden acceleration accusations came out, The Huffington Post reported in January. "I feel that there have been certain statements made, while not entirely untruthful per se, that avoided direct confrontation of the truth," he wrote.