A U.S. federal judge has ordered Toyota to turn over the bulk of documents from previous investigations of complaints about its cars racing out of control. These doctors were sought in litigation by class-action lawyers. The discovery order by U.S. District Judge James Selna was a major defeat for Toyota. The Japanese automaker faces potential civil liability estimated conservatively at more than $10 billion. As all America knows, complaints of runaway vehicles have led to the recall of more than 8 million Toyota vehicles worldwide for repairs of what is being described as ill-fitting floor mats and sticking gas pedals the automaker blames for surging engines. Many of the lawsuits assert that at least some of the acceleration problems were caused by an electronic glitch, a problem that Toyota has denied.
The Plaintiffs’ lawyers were seeking about 125,000 pages of internal documents already submitted to Congressional panels and auto safety regulators. Those documents have remained largely confidential, except for a relatively small number cited in recent Congressional hearings on Toyota’s handling of complaints of sudden, unintended acceleration in its vehicles.
Under Judge Selna’s order, Toyota had 30 days to turn over any English-language documents it does not consider privileged – those involving communications with its own lawyers. The judge gave Toyota up to 60 days to produce Japanese-language papers among the documents, said by the automaker to number some 20,000 pages. Any documents containing trade secrets or other information that might compromise Toyota’s competitive position will be kept confidential under a protective order. Disclosure of the documents will make it easier to draft a newly-consolidated version of all legal claims seeking compensation from Toyota for economic losses – such as diminished resale value – stemming from the acceleration problems and related recalls.
The judge felt that 30 days was sufficient for the bulk of documents already delivered to Congress and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Judge Selna also rejected Toyota’s recommendations for how the Plaintiffs’ lawyers should structure their revised Complaint. Currently, there are over 200 federal lawsuits filed around the country for personal injury, wrongful death and economic loss claims stemming from acceleration issues – all of them now brought together in the consolidated pre-trial proceedings overseen by Judge Selna. Toyota says it faces about 100 other lawsuits filed in various state courts around the country.
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