Where General Motors and Takata have grabbed many auto safety-related headlines this year with their problems with ignition switches and airbag inflators, a few years ago, a similar sort of scrutiny fell on Toyota for unintended acceleration. After multiple settlements with various parties totaling billions of dollars, the issues seem largely behind the Japanese automaker now. Owners are actually starting to receive their money, but it isn't exactly breaking the bank. Payouts are expected to be between $37 and $125 per person. Computer science student Jonathan Sourbeer received a check for just $20.91, and he considers what that money actually means in an op-ed in The Wall Street Journal.
Sourbeer's biggest gripe is that the roughly 85 lawyers in the case are receiving $227 million in attorneys' fees and expenses, while the 25 primary plaintiffs and class representatives receive a total of just $395,270. According to the Frequently Asked Questions about the settlement, Toyota set up a $250 million fund to pay affected owners, as well. The money isn't for injuries or damages but for alleged economic loss to the vehicles. However, Sourbeer says he feels no personal suffering and still has the same car.
In addition to the settlement, the automaker obviously has its own legal fees to deal with, as well. Sourbeer wonders how this is all going to affect Toyotas in the future. Obviously, the money has to come from somewhere, and it likely gets amortized over the company's vehicles in the coming years to add a few dollars to each one. That puts the problem back onto customers.
Anyone involved in a class-action suit has likely seen this happen first hand. The lawyers take a large chunk of the money, and the rest is distributed in tiny morsels to those actually affected. Unfortunately, Sourbeer offers no solutions beyond saying the system needs to change.