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Toyota Still Covering Up, Crash Victim Says

CHICAGO (CN) - Toyota concealed a defect that made a Rav4 accelerate on its own and smash into a store in a flaming wreck, putting her into a coma with serious injuries, a woman claims in court.

Shanita Akintonde sued Toyota and three Toyota subsidiaries, in Federal Court.

Akintonde claims Toyota is still trying to conceal its failure to install a brake override system by blaming the problem on floor mats.

"On March 27, 2006 Akintonde purchased a new 2006 Toyota Rav4 sports utility vehicle from an authorized Toyota dealer," according to the complaint.

"On March 21, 2009, Akintonde left a chess competition where she had been watching her sons compete. She left in order to get lunch for them. Eyewitnesses indicated that they saw Akintonde's vehicle accelerate at an extremely high rate of speed, then the vehicle hit a median, became airborne and crashed into a Borders store and ultimately fully engulfed in flames.

"Bystanders immediately approached the vehicle, cut off Akintonde's seat belt and removed her mere moments before the vehicle became fully engulfed in flames.

"Despite the heroic efforts of the bystanders, Akintonde suffered tremendously debilitating injuries including but not limited to: broken legs, a broken arm as well as broken wrist. She also spent considerable time in a coma. Akintonde had at least ten (10) surgeries related to her injuries and required extensive physical therapy in order to regain the ability to perform the most basic of tasks," according to the complaint.

Toyota recalled nearly 8 million vehicles in the United States 2 years ago, for unintended acceleration. Akintonde says in her complaint that the recall included "potentially 1,363,244 Rav4 vehicles."

Toyota blamed the problem on faulty floor mats, made by contractors, or on "sticky" accelerator pedals. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration found no other flaws in Toyota cars that could have caused unintended acceleration, the U.S. Department of Transportation said in its Feb. 8, 2011 statement.

Akintonde claims that Toyota's floor mat theory is a ruse to conceal the true defect causing the unintended acceleration: lack of a brake override system.

"The subject Rav4 was not equipped with a brake override system ('smart-throttle technology'). Smart-throttle technology has been known reduce the risks associated with unintended acceleration," the complaint states.

"Several automakers install smart-throttle technology (hereinafter 'brake override systems') in all of their models such as Audi, BMW, GM, Mazda, Mercedes-Benz, Mini and Smart. Others have brake override systems on select vehicles that they manufacture including Chrysler/Dodge/Jeep, Ford/Lincoln/Mercury, Nissan/Infiniti and Suzuki.

"Virtually all Toyota, Lexus and Scion vehicles, including the Rav4, sold in the United States prior to 2010 lacked this important safety feature (brake override system).

"Toyota was aware of, but made the conscious decision to conceal, information regarding Unintended Acceleration ('UA') from the American public. Specifically, Toyota concealed information about UA problems with its vehicles, including the true nature of the defect and the number of resulting incidents, injuries and deaths. Toyota continues to mislead the public by suggesting that UA is solely a pedal/floor mat issue." (Parentheses in complaint.)

Akintonde adds: "Rather than focus on electronic issues, mechanical issues, faulty designs and other causes of UA, defendants continued to mislead the public by obsessively focusing on floor mats and 'sticky' accelerator pedals. Even after defendants' recall of vehicles for floor mats and sticky pedals across all of its makes and models, drivers continue to report UA incidents in vehicles that were not part of the recalls. Likewise, even among vehicles that were recalled and repaired, drivers continue to report experiences of UA.

"Toyota effectively used these 'floor mat' and 'sticky pedal' problems to downplay and divert attention away from the major design defects and safety problems with the ETCS [electronic throttle control system], including the need for a brake override system. There is no way for defendants' customers, including Akintonde, to reasonably inspect the major design defects of defendants' vehicles including the Rav4."

Six weeks ago, Toyota offered to pay more than $1 billion to settle class action claims related to unintended acceleration.

The proposed settlement was granted preliminary approval by U.S. District Judge James Selna.

Akintonde seeks punitive damages for negligence, product liability, failure to warn, breach of warranty, and fraudulent concealment.

She is represented by Keenan Saulter with Saulter & Tarver.

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