A putative class action lawsuit alleges that a defect in the hands-free phone system in certain Toyota vehicles has rendered the systems “virtually unusable.” Plaintiffs Terry Freeman and Andrew Trout filed the suit on behalf of themselves and others similarly situated against the defendants, Toyota Motor Engineering & Manufacturing North America, Inc., Toyota Motor North America, Inc., and Toyota Motor Sales U.S.A., Inc. (collectively, “Toyota”).
The class action lawsuit is alleging that when the driver of the Toyota uses the hands-free phone system to make or receive a call, the person on the other end of the call hears an echo of his or her words, which “makes continuation of the phone conversation impossible to maintain.”
The complaint alleges this defect affected the named Plaintiffs in the following ways:
- Plaintiff Terry Freeman purchased a 2018 Toyota Highlander that has the echo defect in the phone system. His vehicle is covered by Toyota’s Basic Warranty, which “covers repairs and adjustments needed to correct defects in materials or workmanship of any part supplied by Toyota, subject to” certain listed exceptions that did not apply to the hands-free phone system. Shortly after he purchased his vehicle and set up the Bluetooth hands-free phone system, he was informed by people with whom he spoke that when he used that phone system, they heard their own words echo back to them. Within the warranty period, Mr. Freeman informed Lou Fusz Toyota of the echo defect, and was told his vehicle was a version behind in software; however, the update did not fix the echo defect. He tried a Toyota ”Tech Tip” that recommended adjusting the volume on the phone and the head unit, but this did not resolve the issue. Mr. Freeman contacted Toyota’s helpline, but was merely told to bring his vehicle in for service, which he had already done to no avail.
- Plaintiff Andrew Trout purchased a 2016 Toyota Highlander that has the echo defect in the phone system. Almost immediately after purchasing his Highlander and setting up the Bluetooth hands-free phone system, he was informed by people on the other end of phone calls that they heard their own words echo back to them. While his vehicle was under the Basic Warranty period, he reported the echo defect to Lou Fusz Toyota and was told they did not have a solution. Mr. Trout also reported the defect to Straatmann Toyota and was told they did not have a solution. He contacted Toyota Sales, but the representative advised him to adjust the volume on his cell phone and on the head-unit in his vehicle; when Mr. Trout said he had previously tried that without it fixing the echo defect, the representative stated that was Toyota’s “final position.” He was then referred to the Toyota Customer Experience Center, but was told by a representative again that he should alter the volume on his cell phone and on the head unit in his vehicle, which did not repair the echo defect.
The complaint alleges the following Toyota models contain the defective phone system:
- Avalon HV
- Highlander HV
- Prius V
The Class Plaintiffs seek to represent includes all individuals who reside in Missouri who purchased or leased a “Class Vehicle” that, within the applicable period of limitations preceding the filing of the lawsuit to the date of class certification, has or had a defect such that during use of the vehicle’s hands-free phone system, the person on the other end of a phone call hears an echo of his or her own words.
The plaintiffs assert violations of the Missouri Merchandising Practices Act by means of unfair practices, deception, and omissions, unjust enrichment, and breach of written warranties.
The plaintiffs allege Toyota has known of this echo defect since at least 2007 as shown by its references to it in its own Owner’s Manual or Navigation Owner’s Manual provided to consumers after their purchase or lease of a vehicle. For instance, as alleged in the complaint, the 2008 Highlander Owner’s Manual has a section entitled “Using the hands-free phone system (for cellular phone)/Hands-free phone system (for cellular phone) features,” which states in part:
- “If the received call volume is overly loud, an echo may be heard”
- “Keep the volume of the receiving voice down. Otherwise voice echo will increase.”
The complaint alleges that Toyota “does not provide consumers with an Owner’s Manual or Navigation Owner’s Manual until after a consumer purchases or leases one of its vehicles.” They also contend Toyota has failed to disclose the echo defect on its “Bluetooth Support” or other webpages relating to its Bluetooth hands-free system. Plaintiffs also contend a March 2018 “Tech Tip” issued by Toyota shows knowledge of the echo defect; this “Tech Tip,” applicable to certain Toyota models, states “Some customers may experience echoing on the line calling the vehicle when using Bluetooth Hands Free. This is caused by the phone Hands Free volume being too low. These settings may need to be reapplied any time the phone is paired to a new head unit, a phone update is applied, or the phone is un-paired and re-paired.”
The lawsuit seeks remedies including damages, an order enjoining Toyota from continuing the alleged unlawful practices set forth in the complaint, and attorney fees.
The plaintiffs originally filed their lawsuit in a Missouri State court; Defendants removed the case to federal court in September 2019. In October 2019, Plaintiffs filed their First Amended Complaint. In November 2019, Toyota filed a motion to dismiss the case. Discovery is scheduled to be completed by March 31, 2021. The case is Freeman et al. v. Toyota Motor Sales U.S.A., Inc., et al., number 4:19-cv-02550, in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Missouri.