NEW YORK (CNNMoney.com) -- A lawsuit filed Monday alleges that Toyota knew about the sudden acceleration problems in its vehicles as far back as 2003 but concealed the defects from consumers and regulators.
The Japanese automaker has gotten tens of thousands of complaints from consumers who say their cars suddenly speed out of control, according to the lawsuit.
The suit alleges that the electronic throttle is a cause of this unintended acceleration, but rather than disclosing the concern, Toyota "concealed the existence of this defect."
Toyota also received evidence that the likelihood of unintended acceleration increase "substantially" in cars with electronic throttle systems, according to court documents.
The lawsuit, which is seeking class-action status in the U.S. District Court in California, represents consumers and businesses that bought or leased Toyota vehicles manufactured in the U.S. that have an electronic throttle control system.
Toyota has admitted that two mechanical issues cause sudden unintended acceleration: a "sticky pedal," which is an accelerator that gets stuck half way down, and the gas pedal getting stuck on thick floor mats.
But Toyota continues to defend the electronic throttle. "Importantly, to date, plaintiffs have not cited a specific cause that would support their claim of a defect in Toyota's Electronic Throttle Control System, and no credible scientific theory or proof has been advanced to support this allegation," the company said in a statement Tuesday.
The plaintiffs are arguing that Toyota should be held responsible for the drop in resale value in cars that are afflicted with this problem and that consumers and businesses should be allowed to return their defective cars to Toyota.
"Toyota rejects claims that plaintiffs suffered economic damages because of the recent recalls," the company said.
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