Toyota warned U.S. dealerships in 2002 that Camry owners complained of throttle surges and recommended adjusting the computer, documents indicated.
A lawyer with the non-profit Center for Auto Safety in Washington said the technical service bulletin discusses electronics issues – not mechanical issues raised in the massive recall – and how the condition was corrected, CNN reported Tuesday.
"If you look at this document, it says electronics," attorney Clarence Ditlow said. "It says the fix is reprogrammed in the computer. It doesn't say anything about floor mats."
Toyota, the world's largest automaker, blamed acceleration surges on floor mats that could trap accelerator pedals, recalling more than 2.3 million vehicles in January. It has said independent testing did not detect problems with its electronic throttle controls.
The internal document was given to CNN by a group of attorneys seeking a class-action lawsuit against the company. Ditlow said the previously undisclosed document indicates Toyota officials knew of an electrical link to the acceleration problems. He said the bulletin was either ignored or hidden not only by Toyota officials but also by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, CNN said.
"The government is really hiding this information from the consumer," Ditlow told CNN. "They're in a conspiracy with the auto industry to keep these out of the public's sight."
The group of attorneys said the repair bulletin proves the manufacturer misled the public about the causes of sudden acceleration.
"They can fix these problems easily," said Tim Howard, a Northeastern University law professor who heads the legal group suing Toyota. "But it would cost them about $500 a car nationwide."
Howard said he and his legal team plan to appear in federal court in San Diego to ask a judge to combine the 88 individual lawsuits filed so far against Toyota into on class action.
NHTSA did not respond to requests for comment, CNN said.
Toyota issued a statement challenging the findings by Howard and the other attorneys.
"Toyota strongly disputes these completely baseless allegations being driven by plaintiff's attorneys like Mr. Howard," the statement said. "Toyota intends to fight against these unfounded claims vigorously."