The owner of Toyota dealerships in San Juan Capistrano and Claremont won a $15.8 million verdict against the auto-making giant Monday in his lawsuit alleging he was retaliated against for whistleblowing on defects with Prius models that would rapidly decelerate.
Roger Hogan sued Toyota two years ago after he alleged the company was retaliating against his business for raising concerns about the defects that could force the electric vehicles to power down unexpectedly while in motion and for touting a system that would notify Toyota vehicle owners of necessary recalls stemming from the runaway vehicle issues.
Hogan said he wasn’t exactly smiling despite the verdict.
“This is very disheartening to me that this company has come to this point,” Hogan told City News Service. “It breaks my heart.”
Toyota spokeswoman Christine Henley said, “While we respect the jury’s decision, we remain confident the evidence and testimony clearly demonstrated that Toyota abided by its contractual obligations to the Hogan dealerships and has been transparent with its dealers, regulators and customers regarding the vehicle issues raised at trial. We will consider our options moving forward.”
Hogan said he launched his crusade demanding replacements of parts called inverters because he was concerned that the company’s software updates weren’t solving the problem.
“My philosophy is never put a customer in a car you wouldn’t put your own family in,” Hogan said. “There’s no amount of money in the world to compensate for a lost family member. It’s just unconscionable, so we drew a line in the sand and the jury found we were justified in our actions and that Toyota concealed certain material facts to us.”
Two Toyota customers testified during the trial about how their Prius cars had an inverter overheat, causing the vehicle to decelerate while in motion.
Hogan set aside 120 of the cars on his lot and refused to sell them until the inverters were replaced. The jury took the lost profits from those vehicles into account, he said.
Hogan’s attorney, Amnon Siegel, said he suggested about $2 million on a fraud claim, but the jury came back with a much higher award. The jury rejected a finding that Toyota intended to deceive all of its dealerships on the issues related to the inverter, which would have prompted a much higher award for punitive damages, Siegel said.
The jury found unanimously that Toyota was guilty of a breach of implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing, Siegel said.
“They needed to handle these issues (with the Prius models) properly and they essentially blew them off,” Siegel said. “When he raised the issues they said there’s nothing to see here.”
When Hogan began raising the issues with the Prius models from 2010 through 2014, the company retaliated by only sending him the bare minimum of vehicles they were mandated to release to him for sale, he said.
“Our expert couldn’t even get the data from Toyota from the past two years,” Hogan said of the inventory that he should have been sent and its value.
Hogan said he has a 40-year history with Toyota and can’t just simply switch brands.
“I loved the brand,” he said. “I’m very disappointed this has come to this point. I was hoping Toyota would have done the right thing and stood up for what’s right for the customer and made it right, but they chose to take different positions.”