Minnesota Toyota owners skeptical of payout chances

  • Article by: ABBY SIMONS , Star Tribune
  • Updated: December 27, 2012 - 10:58 PM

Those who struggled with vehicle defects said they'll wait and see.

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Norm Talsoe of Minnetonka was part of a $1 billion class-action suit settlement announced Thursday, the largest in U.S. history involving automobile defects. Talsoe has replaced his troublesome 2003 Lexus made by Toyota.

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Norm Talsoe figures his cut won't be worth much if Toyota's $1.1 billion class action settlement is approved by a federal judge.

It's "peanuts," he said, compared to the problems the automaker caused him in the three years he owned a Lexus LS400 that, in six separate incidents, accelerated on its own and nearly caused several dangerous rear-end collisions. Still, the 82-year-old retired electrical engineer from Minnetonka is satisfied.

"I don't really care about the money; it wasn't the reason I joined [the lawsuit]," Talsoe said Thursday. "I kept reading about people having these problems and getting killed, and the executives from Toyota kept stating that there was no problem. It just drove me crazy."

The proposed settlement, the largest in U.S. history involving automobile defects, ends claims from owners who said the value of their vehicles dropped after recalls over sudden and unintended acceleration. Lawsuits claiming the defects caused injury or death remain on the table, with the first trial slated to begin in February unless there is another major settlement.

In addition to cash payments from the current settlement, Toyota will launch a $250 million program for 16 million current owners to provide supplemental warranty coverage for certain vehicle components and will retrofit about 3.2 million vehicles with a brake override system to ensure that the car will stop when the brakes are applied.

The settlement could affect Minnesotans like Talsoe, who for years tried to get the automaker to correct the problem with his accelerator, only to be told repeatedly that the mishaps were due to driver error, such as that he missed the brake and pushed the accelerator. Talsoe, who clearly remembers stomping with both feet on the brake and shifting the car into neutral inches before it slammed into the back of other vehicles on multiple occasions, calls the company's explanations "crappy."

"If you're not looking for the problem that's happening, of course you're not gonna find it," he said.

He eventually was able to trade in the faulty Lexus at a loss, considering he would have driven it at least another eight to 10 years. He's not exactly sure what he will receive from the settlement, since he was told by an attorney that allocations from the settlement will be handled on a case-by-case basis. He said that he's happy with his current vehicle and has had no problems with it.

Cash offers

Toyota also will offer cash payments from a pool of $250 million to eligible customers who sold vehicles or turned in leased vehicles between September 2009 and December 2010. Talsoe, who traded his Lexus in 2009, said he doesn't qualify, but will object to that if possible. He said he'd take a cut to recoup the costs of trading in his vehicle earlier than he intended to.

In 2009, Graciela Gulbranson was backing down her Minnetonka driveway when the accelerator of the 2002 Toyota Camry she was driving stuck, causing it to hit a tree and resulting in several thousand dollars' damage to the car. Her husband, Michael Gulbranson, said Thursday that it's unclear to him whether they could benefit from the settlement. He said he was never contacted to join the class-action lawsuit, but would be open to retrofitting the vehicle they still own and have been nervous to sell.

"If someone posed the offer to me, I would say, yes, by all means I would," Gulbranson said. "Do I expect anything? No, not at this moment, but with all the issues we've had with Toyota, I would have liked to see them step forward and do the right thing. So many of the letters we've received say, 'Sorry, it's not our fault, it's yours.' "

The Associated Press contributed to this report. Abby Simons • 612-673-4921

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