— A Toyota RAV4 Hybrid fuel tank class action lawsuit settlement is taking heat from a group of SUV owners who object to the settlement agreement which allegedly provides RAV4 customers no real benefits.
"Rather, the only thing this settlement fills is the lawyers’ coffers. Of the $1,100,000 in monetary benefits, all $1,100,000 goes to plaintiffs’ lawyers, and $0 goes to the class." — Objection to Proposed Class Action Settlement and Opposition to Motion for Preliminary Approval
Toyota’s RAV4 Hybrid vehicles allegedly have defective fuel tanks that fail to fill to the advertised 14.5-gallon capacity.
On January 15, 2020, Toyota RAV4 fuel tank lawsuit plaintiff Marco Fernandez (one of the 31 objectors to the settlement) filed the first class action against Toyota in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California.
That case was later consolidated with two later-filed cases, DeLuca, et al. v. Toyota, and Ferraguto v. Toyota.
Lawyers representing objectors say that after the filing of the first class action lawsuit, "other plaintiffs filed copycat cases in other federal courts."
In January 2020, separate lawyers filed a RAV4 Hybrid fuel tank lawsuit entitled, Ly v. Toyota asserting California-only claims.
Then in March 2020, attorneys involved in this proposed settlement also filed a California-only case entitled, Coleman v. Toyota. However, in July 2020 attorneys for the original lawsuit were informed the Ly and Coleman cases would be dismissed.
However, attorneys for Fernandez in the original lawsuit claim there was a problem.
"Unbeknownst to the Fernandez plaintiffs, however, the Ly and Coleman plaintiffs voluntarily dismissed their cases to engage in secret settlement negotiations. And despite his stipulation that each side would bear its own fees and costs, counsel for Ly now seeks to recover his attorneys’ fees as part of the proposed settlement in this Court."
Also, in January 2020 a separate Toyota RAV4 Hybrid class action was filed in California entitled, Boulom et al. v. Toyota.
Then in February 2020, completely different lawyers filed this case related to the settlement, entitled Pulkrabek v. Toyota. In June 2021, the Pulkrabek plaintiffs added the California plaintiff from the Ly class action and sought preliminary approval of the fuel tank settlement.
The Alleged Problems With the Toyota RAV4 Hybrid Class Action Settlement
The objectors argue none of the $1.1 million settlement goes to RAV4 Hybrid customers to compensate them for purchasing allegedly falsely advertised vehicles that cannot hold the advertised fuel capacity. But attorneys for the objectors allege if the settlement is approved by the judge, "the settlement waives class members’ damages claims."
Objectors also argue the $1.1 million settlement does nothing to compensate RAV4 Hybrid owners the $2,000 premium they paid for the RAV4 Hybrid over the non-hybrid model even though the defect allegedly caused RAV4 Hybrids to have the same or less mileage range than non-hybrids.
The settlement does provide an "extended customer support program," but like many so-called class action settlement "benefits," the program already existed prior to the settlement agreement.
According to the objectors, the program provides “an inspection of the fuel tank and/or fuel sender gauge,” but Toyota already provides these inspections free of charge under the current program.
Second, Toyota may replace the existing fuel tank and/or fuel sender gauge with “a new improved fuel tank and/or fuel sender gauge unit, as required.” But the objectors point out the existing customer support program already does the same thing, so the "settlement therefore does not provide anything different than the current program."
The objectors admit the extended program provides coverage for 15 years from the vehicle’s first use or 150,000 miles, whichever occurs first. This represents an increase from the current program's 8-year and 100,000-mile coverage. But the objectors argue this is meaningless if Toyota cannot or does not fix the problem with the RAV4 Hybrid’s fuel tank.
"In short, the “extended” program merely provides window dressing for Toyota’s existing (and failed) support program. Notably absent is any requirement that Toyota actually fix class members’ fuel tanks so that they fill to their advertised 14.5 gallons. Or any obligation that Toyota do anything that it is not already doing under its existing program."
The objectors to the Toyota RAV4 Hybrid fuel tank lawsuit settlement also claim the parties made it too much of a burden to object or opt-out of the settlement. Attorneys for objectors argue the settlement requires "lengthy documentation, handwritten signatures, and mail instead of online submissions."
The Toyota RAV4 Hybrid fuel tank class action lawsuit was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Texas: Pulkrabek v. Toyota Motor Sales. In Re Toyota RAV4 Hybrid Fuel Tank Litigation, No. 3:20-cv-00337.
Objectors to the Toyota RAV4 Hybrid class action lawsuit settlement agreement are represented by Schubert Jonckheer & Kolbe LLP.