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It turns out sticky accelerator pedals aren’t the only defects Toyota knowingly withheld from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and consumers.

Thanks to previously undisclosed complaints uncovered during discovery in a recent lawsuit, NHSTA is now investigating why Toyota delayed a recall of almost one million trucks and SUVs over defective steering rods.

The Washington Post today reports that the new cases emerged during a lawsuit in which Toyota was sued over the death of 18-year-old Levi Stewart of Fairfield, Idaho, who was killed when his 1991 Toyota pickup veered off the road and rolled over after the steering rod snapped.

It was these faulty steering systems that caused Toyota to recall 330,000 vehicles in Japan in 2004 – though the company was able to avoid a recall in the U.S. by telling NHTSA similar problems hadn’t been reported here (a U.S. recall was eventually issued the following year).

But through the Stewart’s lawsuit, NHSTA has learned of 40 previously undisclosed cases where American owners had complained directly to Toyota about steering rod problems before the 2004 recall in Japan.

So Toyota may be in even deeper than it thought – after all, this second NHTSA investigation comes just a month after the agency levied a $16.4 million against the company for withholding knowledge about defective accelerator pedals.

But as the fallout continues, it’s useful to remember that this is just one more example of how our civil justice system has, and is continuing to, make cars safer. See AAJ’s new report for examples of how similar vehicle design defects brought through litigation have spurred innovations in auto safety.

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