Valley widow suing Toyota

A Las Vegas widow has filed a wrongful death lawsuit against Toyota Motor Corp. and Findlay Automotive, alleging that a sticking accelerator pedal led to the death of Jeff Levine in December.

The lawsuit was filed July 28 in Clark County District Court by Las Vegas attorney Gerald Gillock on behalf of Kim Levine and her children, Lucas and Nicolas.

While some Las Vegas attorneys have joined in a national class action lawsuit against Toyota, this is the first individual death case filed in Nevada, Gillock said Monday.

Toyota and Findlay knew that accelerators in vehicles such as the Toyota Tacoma were subject to getting stuck in the full-throttle position while trapped under the driver’s side floor mat, the 18-page lawsuit said.

Toyota had started a recall in Europe in 2009, but not in the United States. The automobile manufacturer planned to roll out the U.S. recall in 2010, Gillock said.

“The reason this is so tragic is because Toyota was aware of the floor mat problem and they were concealing the problem from the American people,” Gillock told the Review-Journal. “It started to leak out the last week of December. Ironically, they put out a press release about the accelerator the week after he (Levine) was killed.”

Jeff Levine was driving a Toyota Tacoma on Dec. 17 when his accelerator allegedly got trapped under the mat and the truck sped to 100 miles an hour before striking a motor home and veering off U.S. Highway 95 outside of Searchlight.

One of the crash-scene photos taken by Nevada Highway Patrol shows the accelerator caught under the floor mat, Gillock said.

Jeff Levine had his Tacoma serviced at Findlay Toyota about a month before the accident, but no mention was made about the recall, even though the dealership had been informed about the floor mat problem, the lawsuit alleges.

“Toyota failed to warn operators of the vehicle in the United States and their own conduct was outrageous, wanton and in reckless disregard for the health, safety and welfare of others, including Jeffrey Levine,” the lawsuit said.

Calls to Findlay Toyota for comment were not returned.

The plaintiffs are asking for more than $10,000 apiece for general and special damages, and for more than $10,000 each in punitive damages, plus reasonable attorneys’ fees.

As of January 2010, Toyota had announced recalls of about 9 million vehicles nationwide for the pedal entrapment and floor mat problem.

In February, Toyota President Akio Toyoda apologized to Congress for the deadly defect, saying the company had been expanding its business rapidly for the past few years.

“Quite frankly, I fear the pace at which we have grown may have been too quick,” Toyoda said.

Contact reporter Hubble Smith at hsmith@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0491.

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