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Hacker Vulnerability in Cars Launches Class Action Against Auto Makers

Robert Carbone, Esq. | Deputy General Counsel, Attorney Relations

It is possibly high on the list of many individuals’ worst nightmares: you are driving on the highway at a high rate of speed when your car begins accelerating rapidly and you lose the power to slow down. This nightmare played out in reality with Toyota between 2009 and 2013 when a defect with approximately 11 million of their cars’ acceleration system launched hundreds of personal injury and wrongful death claims and a $1.6 billion class action settlement.


Those fears could be rekindled with a new security vulnerability that exists in most vehicles on the road that would permit hackers and terrorists to remotely take control of the electronic systems within a vehicle and potentially remotely control operation of the car. The vulnerability pertains to wireless technology systems within the vehicle that could be used to access the Controller Area Network, the computer system that orchestrates all of the individual electronic systems distributed throughout the vehicle. This issue was highlighted in a recent Senate reporttitled “Tracking & Hacking: Security & Privacy Gaps Put American Drivers at Risk.” The report in no uncertain terms broadly warns of the widespread nature of this vulnerability:

“Nearly 100% of cars on the market include wireless technologies that could pose vulnerabilities to hacking or privacy intrusions.”

As reported by Texas Lawyer, a new national class action lawsuit has been filed against auto manufacturers due to the above security vulnerabilities. The case, Cahen v. Toyota Motor, Case No. e3:15-cv-01104, filed in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California by the Dallas-based Stanley Law Group, makes claims against Toyota, Ford and General Motors as defendants. Naming Toyota as the first defendant, given the history with the unintended acceleration claims, seems to hardly be coincidental.


The 227-count complaint illustrates the potentially disastrous consequences of the security vulnerability in its first few paragraphs:

“[I]f an outside source, such as a hacker, were able to send [data to the car’s internal computer], the hacker could take control of such basic functions of the vehicle as braking, steering, and acceleration—and the driver of the vehicle would not be able to regain control.”

The 340+ page complaint makes federal and state law claims mainly under breach of warranty and consumer protection statutes.


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