Toyota faces accelerate cases under tentative order
11 December 2010
San Diego (Bloomberg) - Toyota will have to face lawsuits claiming deaths and man injuries caused by unintended acceleration of its autos if a tentative verdict by a federal judge in California becomes final.
Lawyers for injured customers and families of those killed in accidents provided sufficient evidence to allow their cases to go forward, U.S. District Judge James V. Selna in Santa Ana, Calif., said in a tentative ruling yesterday. Selna earlier rejected Toyota's action to dismiss class action, or group, suits claiming economic losses related to sudden acceleration.
The carmaker is accused in the lawsuits of failing to disclose or warn of a defect in its vehicles that could cause unintended acceleration. Toyota said in court filings that the claimants didn't present specific cases of an actual defect and that the company didn't cover anything.
“Toyota demands a level of specificity that is not required at the pleadings stage. The defect is identified: plaintiffs' cars suddenly and unexpectedly accelerate and do not stop upon proper application of the brake pedal,” Selna wrote in his tentative order. Also Selna said he wouldn't dismiss fraud allegations against Toyota related to unintended acceleration, citing claims by the plaintiffs. “Rather than disclosing the (unintended acceleration) defects to consumers, Toyota often blamed consumers for (unintended acceleration)-related problems,” he wrote.
Toyota has recalled more than 10 million vehicles worldwide for repairs related to unintended acceleration, according to researches. In September 2009, the company announced a recall of 3.8 million Toyota and Lexus vehicles because of a defect that may cause floor mats to squeeze accelerator pedals. Afterwards the automaker recalled vehicles over defects involving the pedals themselves.
Toyota spokeswoman, Celeste Migliore expressed company reaction: “These rulings are only tentative and come at a stage of the legal proceedings in which the judge has to accept that what the plaintiffs allege are true, even though they are unproven. We are confident that as the facts develop in this case they will show that there are no defects in these Toyota vehicles.”
Toyota faces about 400 lawsuits incriminating lost vehicle value or injury or death from unexpected acceleration.
“I understand that at the pleading stage you were not going to dismiss them but we are trying to force the plaintiffs to give us a little more information,” Vincent Galvin, a Toyota attorney, told the judge. Galvin said he didn't expect the cases to be dismissed with prejudice, which would have meant they couldn't be refiled. The plaintiffs' complaints lack important details about alleged accidents, and granting Toyota's dismissal motions would have forced them to be more specific, he said.
“Many of these complaints are forms that are used in one case after another,” Galvin told the judge. The complaints typically say, “Vehicle suddenly accelerated, I braked and it did not stop,” he said. “It is reasonable to request that they plead more facts.”
The judge is rejecting almost all of Toyota's arguments, except for a few minor claims by that can be refiled later, said Mark Robinson, one of the lead lawyers for plaintiffs in the personal injury and death cases. “If the judge finalizes this important tentative ruling, the plaintiffs' ship is sailing at full speed with a prevailing wind,” he said.