The federal judge handling the lawsuits against Toyota Motor Corp over cars that raced out of control has set the first court hearing on the combined litigation for next month.
Lawyers for Toyota will face off May 13 before U.S. District Judge James Selna in Santa Ana, California, against attorneys representing over 100 lawsuits consisting of consumer fraud class actions and personal injury claims against the Japanese automaker.
The recent addition of demands for full refunds to U.S. owners of recalled Toyota vehicles as part of consumer protection cases filed in 12 states could raise the legal stakes even higher for the car company.
Selna also designated counsel for the initial phase of the proceedings, naming three prominent trial lawyers and their firms with experience ranging from big tobacco litigation to the Enron Corp bankruptcy and claims arising from the Exxon Valdez oil spill.
April 30 is the deadline for lawyers to submit a preliminary report outlining a proposed organizational structure for the legal teams, the basic facts of the case, key issues in dispute and main subject areas for discovery.
Selna also named defense attorney Cari Dawson of the Atlanta firm Alston & Byrd to head up Toyota’s legal team.
The process of consolidating lawsuits is another step for the U.S. legal system in confronting a torrent of civil litigation in federal courts related to the problems with unintended acceleration in Toyota cars, trucks and SUVs.
Complaints of runaway automobiles and other safety issues have led to the recall of more than 8.5 million Toyota vehicles worldwide, most for repairs of ill-fitting floor mats and sticking gas pedals the automaker blames for surging engines.
Many of the lawsuits suggest the problem is rooted in an as-yet unidentified electronic glitch, which Toyota has vehemently denied.
Unintended acceleration alone has been linked to more than 50 crash deaths and dozens of injuries in Toyota and its luxury Lexus vehicles under investigation over the past decade.
The bulk of federal cases are class actions on behalf of consumers seeking compensation for diminished resale value of their cars as a result of the recalls.
The case is: In re: Toyota Motor Corp Unintended Acceleration Marketing, Sales Practices, and Product Liability Litigation, U.S. District Court, Central District of California, No. 10-ml-02151.