Consumer Fraud

Judge sets dates for three 2013 Toyota sudden-acceleration trials

U.S. District Judge James Selna, who is presiding over multi-district litigation involving sudden-acceleration claims against Toyota, has set three trials to go forward in 2013, including the Utah lawsuit that he previously dismissed over a technicality.

The Utah lawsuit, which Toyota successfully motioned to have dismissed over a warranty claim that bound it to state court, will go forward after all on February 19, 2013, as the first bellwether trial. The attorney for the plaintiffs in that case re-filed the lawsuit, removing claims that caused it to be thrown out on jurisdictional grounds, and Judge Selna reinstated the case.

Judge Selna said the second bellwether trial would start in November 2013, and will be a case of Toyota’s choosing. Toyota recalled more than 8 million vehicles in a series of safety recalls that started in late 2009 and continued into 2010.

The auto giant contends that any incidents of sudden acceleration were caused by floor mats entrapping the gas pedal, sticky throttle assemblies, or driver error. Many plaintiffs argue that an electronic glitch in the control systems of the recalled Toyotas is to blame, an allegation that Toyota adamantly denies.

Judge Selna determined that the first of the economic-loss claims tied to sudden acceleration would take place between the two wrongful death trials, with an opening date sometime in July 2013. In those cases, plaintiffs charge that Toyota’s failure to disclose or fix sudden-acceleration defects caused their vehicles’ value to significantly depreciate.

Judge Selna said in a hearing on the matter that he would likely limit the economic-loss cases to claims from three states, which he said would be determined by the lawyers. Lawyers representing plaintiffs want cases included from California, Florida, and New York –three states with more consumer-friendly laws. Lawyers for Toyota are pushing to include cases from three states with less consumer-oriented laws, with Georgia, Illinois, and Ohio all contenders.


Bloomberg / BusinessWeek