Additional claims for economic damages may be allowed against Toyota Motor Corp. in the multidistrict litigation over its sudden unintended acceleration recalls. The temporary order by U.S. District Judge James Selna, who is in charge of the MDL, came after the Plaintiffs’ steering committee in the MDL filed its first consolidated Complaint for economic damages. In the Complaint it is alleged that Toyota knowingly hid defects associated with unintended acceleration beginning in 2002 while falsely assuring consumers about the safety of its vehicles.
The committee actually brought two Complaints: an economic loss master consolidated complaint (MCC) filed on behalf of some 50 named consumers and four businesses nationwide; and a first amended consolidated complaint filed by ten consumers and two businesses in California. Each rely on claims under California consumer-protection laws, including the California Legal Remedies Act and the California Unfair Competition Law.
According to the committee, the MCC was filed to handle pleadings, the merits of the case, and discovery issues that are part of the MDL. The first amended consolidated Complaint is a “vehicle for class certification and trial” because it simplifies the process by applying only California law, rather than a hodgepodge of various state laws.
As of September 20th, 186 class actions had been filed for economic damages associated with unintended acceleration in 39 states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico. Of those, more than 120 state claims associated with the recalls of accelerator pedals and floor mat defects not asserted in the MCC, which alleges a defect in the electronic throttle control system of the vehicles. The MCC also omits certain other claims that were brought against Toyota, such as violations under the Racketeering Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, negligence and lemon law claims.
Cases with claims omitted from the Complaints would be “essentially in limbo” until the MDL wraps up. Furthermore, Toyota would be forced to address additional claims after litigating the claims in the existing Complaints. Judge Selna, in his order, said claims omitted from the MCC must be brought by October 12th, or they will be dismissed. Under the judge’s order, proposals on how to incorporate those claims in the MDL are due by October 26th. A hearing on those motions is scheduled for November 8th. In his temporary order, Judge Selna ruled that those with claims omitted from the MCC are entitled to due process and wrote:
While it might make sense to treat a MCC as a superseding Complaint that effectively dismisses unasserted claims with prejudice when there is no meaningful legal distinction between plaintiffs’ asserted and unasserted claims, that is not the case when there are meaningful distinctions among the underlying Complaints. Here, as both parties recognize, the MCC omits several claims, allegations, and parties that are entirely distinct from those asserted in the MCC.
Judge Selna also allowed Defendants not named in the consolidated Complaints to respond by the October 12th deadline. Toyota and its subsidiary, Toyota Motor Sales USA Inc., are the only Defendants named in the Complaints. Dee Miles, who heads up our firm’s Consumer Fraud Section, serves on the Plaintiff’s steering committee in the MDL. Dee has been very impressed with the manner in which Judge Selna has handled this complex litigation. It’s quite obvious that he demands lots from lawyers on all sides, and won’t put up with delays or excuses, and that’s good.
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