More than 200 separate lawsuits have been filed against Toyota, many seeking class-action status, in the wake of its recent safety problems.
Facing an avalanche of litigation that could result in as much as $40 billion in payoffs to those claiming injury from problems with runaway vehicles, Toyota wants a panel of federal judges to consolidate more than 200 separate “sudden acceleration” lawsuits before a single California judge.
But lawyers representing a variety of plaintiffs told a U.S. Panel on Multidistrict Litigation that they’d prefer to have their cases heard by courts in New Jersey, Florida, Kentucky, and other parts of the country.
The Panel, operating out of federal court in San Diego, has been empowered to try to reign in the growing number of lawsuits targeting Toyota for its ongoing safety problems, an issue that could tie up the courts – and the automaker – for years to come.
So far, the company’s attorneys said, 138 potential class-action lawsuits have been filed seeking damages because Toyota’s problems have resulted in falling resale values for its products. Another 97 suits claim damages because of personal injuries and wrongful deaths involving Toyota products.
While Toyota is expected to ask the panel to dismiss the pending litigation as a matter of course, that is considered a long-shot. It has a better chance, according to legal experts, of getting some or all of the suits heard at a single trial.
“All these cases have common issues,” Toyota attorney Cari Dawson told the panel of judges. “There will be significant overlap,” she stressed, arguing that it makes more sense to combine the cases and argue them concurrently.
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While some plaintiffs’ attorneys continue hoping to argue their own cases, observers believe that the panel will eventually approve the consolidation. With at least 34 cases already filed in California, the state is considered likely to be the venue for the litigation. It helps that it is near Toyota’s U.S. headquarters, which will make it easy for corporate officials to appear on the witness stand.