(Updates with Toyota’s comment in ninth paragraph.)
Oct. 11 (Bloomberg) -- Toyota Motor Corp. will face three trials in 2013 over sudden-acceleration claims in federal court in Santa Ana, California, a judge said.
The first trial, set for Feb. 19, 2013, will cover claims by the families of two people who were killed in a crash in Utah in 2010, U.S. District Judge James V. Selna in Santa Ana ruled today. That lawsuit, dismissed last month on jurisdictional grounds, was reinstated after the families re-filed their claim.
Selna also scheduled the first trial over claims of economic loss tied to unintended acceleration for July 2013 and a second wrongful death case for November 2013. Selna said he probably would limit the economic loss trial to claims from car owners in three states.
“I doubt I would add another state to any class-action,” Selna said today at a hearing, telling the lawyers to decide which three states to include in the economic-loss trial.
Those cases, filed as class actions on behalf of all car owners in a state, claim that Toyota drove down the value of their vehicles by failing to disclose or fix defects related to sudden acceleration.
Plaintiffs’ lawyers are seeking to include cases from California, New York and Florida, which according to arguments before the judge have more liberal consumer laws. Toyota lawyers are seeking to include cases from states with less consumer friendly laws such as Georgia, Ohio and Illinois.
Claims of Defects
Toyota, the world’s largest automaker, recalled at least 8 million U.S. vehicles starting in 2009, after claims of defects and incidents involving sudden unintended acceleration. The recalls set off hundreds of economic-loss suits and claims of injuries and deaths.
The three cases were selected for bellwether trials, which will be used by the court and lawyers for both sides to test evidence and liability theories before moving on to other trials, limiting future litigation and helping the judge decide whether to grant the cases class-action status. Selna has been overseeing the lawsuits for evidence-gathering and pre-trial rulings.
Toyota opposes class-action treatment of the economic loss lawsuits, Celeste Migliore, a Toyota spokeswoman, said in an e-mail. “We are confident that no common class of litigants exists and that plaintiffs are not entitled to individual or class-wide relief.”
The plaintiffs “still have not identified any supposed defect in Toyota’s electronic throttle control system, and they have advanced no reliable scientific theory or proof to support any such defect claim in any Toyota vehicle, much less in all of them,” she said. “With no defect, there can be no class.”
The first trial will be over the deaths of Paul Van Alfen and passenger Charlene Lloyd, who were killed when Van Alfen’s 2008 Toyota Camry crashed into a wall.
Van Alfen’s wife and son were injured in the 2010 crash and are suing as well. The families say the accident happened when the vehicle unexpectedly accelerated as Van Alfen pulled onto an exit ramp on I-80 near Wendover, Utah, and didn’t stop even after he slammed on the brakes.
The Camry was defective and the Toyota City, Japan-based carmaker failed to include a brake override system or device to stop inadvertent acceleration, the families maintain.
‘Van Alfen II’
“We’re happy the Van Alfen case was reinstated as the first bellwether case after we removed the Utah dealer” as a defendant, said plaintiff’s attorney Mark Robinson. “If it were a movie, it would be called ‘Van Alfen II.’”
Migliore said, “Toyota is ready, willing and able to defend itself in the Van Alfen case now that important jurisdictional issues have been resolved.”
The second wrongful death trial, set for November 2013, will be a case selected by Toyota, the judge said at today’s hearing.
The cases are combined as In re Toyota Motor Corp. Unintended Acceleration Marketing, Sales Practices and Products Liability Litigation, 8:10-ml-02151, U.S. District Court, Central District of California (Santa Ana).
--Editors: Fred Strasser, Michael Hytha
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