"There is a pattern of covering up defects at Toyota," said Clarence Ditlow, head of the Center for Auto Safety, USA Today reported Monday.
Court papers filed in a California lawsuit show Toyota, which paid a record $16 .4 million National Highway Traffic Safety Administration fine this year for delaying recalls of millions of vehicles for problems with speed control, also knew about a problem with cracking steering relay rods for at least 11 years before issuing a recall on the issue.
Toyota recalled compact pickup trucks, 4Runner SUVs and other vehicles in Japan in 2004 to replace the steering relay rods. It waited another year before issuing a U.S. recall.
At the time, "Given the low number of incidents and lack of injuries or fatalities over a span of many years in this case, we did not have information that warranted an investigation," agency spokeswoman Julia Piscitelli said.
The lawsuit in California was filed on behalf of an 18-year-old, Michael Levi Stewart, who died after an accident in a Toyota compact pickup truck. The family received notice of a recall three months after the fatal crash in September 2007, court papers say.
Notable deaths of 2014 [PHOTOS]