The settlement is the largest fine imposed on an automotive company in U.S. history, USA Todayreported.
According to The New York Times, automakers are not typically held “criminally liable” for defects or recalls and rarely pay significant fines for them. However, officials revealed it is the way Toyota handled the defects that resulted in the hefty fine.
"Today we can say for certain that Toyota intentionally concealed information and misled the public about the safety issues behind these recalls," Attorney General Eric Holder said in announcing the settlement. "Put simply, Toyota's conduct was shameful."
The investigation began in 2009 with numerous complaints regarding a defect in Toyota cars that caused the car to suddenly accelerate without any force being applied to the accelerator. That same year, an incident with an off-duty highway patrolman and his family involuntarily zipping to speeds of 120 mph in a Toyota ultimately resulted in the death of the family and placed Toyota under greater scrutiny.
The unintentional acceleration that Toyota originally attributed to the gas pedal getting stuck under the floor mats was ultimately deemed to be a faulty electronic system, The Los Angeles Times reported. The justice department’s four-year investigation eventually affirmed that Toyota “mislead” the public and the government about safety problems revealed in it’s internal audits.
Since the reports of glitches began in 2009, Toyota has recalled millions of cars and has paid at least $1.6 billion in lawsuits involving unintentional accelerations, USA Today reported.
"Toyota has cooperated with the U.S. attorney's office in this matter for more than four years," a Toyota spokeswoman said. "During that time, we have made fundamental changes to become a more responsive and customer-focused organization, and we are committed to continued improvements."
Though the investigation has cost Toyota billions of dollars and much of its reputation, some believe the automotive giant can make a comeback.