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Toyota Will Face One Huge Sudden Acceleration Lawsuit

Posted: Apr 19, 2010 11:07 a.m.

The federal court system has consolidated more than 200 separate lawsuits against Toyota into one single class-action suit, which will be heard in a California courtroom.

The Los Angeles Times reports, “In a ruling handed down Friday, the U.S. Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation allowed more than 100 suits seeking class-action status, as well as at least 50 personal injury cases, to be adjudicated in a single federal courtroom.” 

The Detroit Free Press notes, “lawsuits began appearing last fall as Toyota initiated recalls eventually involving about 8 million vehicles,” all triggered by claims that some Toyota vehicles can accelerate suddenly, without input from the driver.

The Times put the number at about 150 lawsuits, but an AP report out this morning claims the decision “affects more than 200 lawsuits against Toyota around the country.”  Claims have been filed by owners seeking “damages from Toyota for injuries or deaths attributed to instances of sudden acceleration,” as well as some who don’t claim their Toyotas have been involved in accidents, but who are suing because their vehicles have lost value due to the recalls.

Toyota had pushed the courts to consolidate all of the claims into a single case, according to the Times.  The company argued that “the legal process would be best served if the cases were argued in one courtroom.” 

However, there are risks for Toyota in this approach.  Reuters notes, “Some lawyers estimate Toyota faces potential civil liability of more than $10 billion as it struggles to contain an auto-safety crisis that has tarnished its public image.”  Such a massive claim will be covered heavily by the media, and a loss in the lawsuit could be devastating to the Japanese automaker. 

The major players in the courtoom will be used to high stakes.  The legal team opposing Toyota, Reuters reports, include “firms with experience ranging from big tobacco litigation to the Enron Corp bankruptcy and claims arising from the Exxon Valdez oil spill.”  The first hearing in the matter has been set for May 13.

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