As we have previously reported, our firm is heavily involved in the Toyota litigation. Dee Miles, who heads up our Consumer Fraud Section, is in the leadership of the Toyota Sudden Unintended Acceleration MultiDistrict Litigation that is ongoing in the United States District Court for the Central District of California. Judge James V. Selna is presiding over the MDL. There have been a couple of developments in the MDL since our last report and this is an update.
Federal Judge Selna issued a ruling on September 29th that the first case, often referred to as a “Bellwether case,” which was set for trial in February, 2013 against Toyota, was not properly before the federal court in California. As a result, the judge remanded that case to state court. Judge Selna’s reasoning was that the Plaintiffs could not meet the threshold amount for damages under the Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act, and as a result, they could not proceed in federal court. But, the Plaintiffs’ have now changed their Complaint, leaving out the local Utah dealership. Therefore, the jurisdictional issue should be resolved. Hopefully, this first case, originally set for trial in February, 2013, will now remain as the first “Bellwether” case to be tried in the Toyota MDL Court.
This case involves Utah residents who were killed in a crash, allegedly caused by a 2008 Toyota Camry’s sudden, unintended acceleration. Utah resident, Paul Van Alfen, was killed when his Toyota Camry hit a rock wall after suddenly accelerating out of control. Another passenger was also killed and two others were injured in the crash. The survivors and family members of those killed filed suit in May, 2011.
While Federal Judge Selna has now established the first “Bellwether” case for the Toyota MDL, a state court judge in California has tentatively scheduled what will likely be the nation’s first trial against Toyota involving the sudden, unintended acceleration defect in April of 2012. Superior Court Judge Anthony Mohr, who sits in Los Angeles County, and is overseeing more than 100 cases filed in California state courts against Toyota Motor Corporation, has ruled that a class action brought by Orange County District Attorney Tony Rackauskas would be among the first cases to go to trial. This case is to run concurrently with unspecified additional “Bellwether” cases in the state court system. Judge Mohr has requested briefs from the lawyers relating to which cases will be in that grouping.
Just as a reminder, these sudden, unintended acceleration lawsuits came about after a recall of more than 8 million Toyota vehicles world-wide, including 6 million in the United States. With that many recalls, it doesn’t take a genius to figure out that real safety problems persist at Toyota. The majority of the lawsuits point to design defects ranging from the electronic throttle control system, failure to program a brake override system, or even the possibility of defective gas pedals, floor mats, or other electronic issues. The MDL lawyers are in the midst of a storm of discovery. Toyota has denied any electronic defect causing sudden unintended acceleration. There is much work to be done.
In addition to the individual death and injury cases that will be tried in the Toyota MDL, numerous class action Complaints also are pending before Judge Selna in the California MDL. Judge Selna has ruled that each of the state class actions will be governed by their own law, but the discovery for these cases remains consolidated for all class action Complaints regardless of the state in which they were originally filed. The discovery in the class action cases is also ongoing.
In summary, these Toyota cases are currently running on at least five litigation tracks: the Federal MDL in California; the California State Court MDL; the Texas State Court MDL; the New York State Court MDL; and the class action case currently pending in the federal MDL in California, also with Judge Selna. We will continue to update you on any new developments that occur with this very important Toyota MultiDistrict Litigation case involving the sudden unintended acceleration issue. If you have any questions, contact Dee Miles or Graham Esdale, lawyers in the firm’s Personal Injury Section, at 800-898-2034 or by email at Dee.Miles@beasleyallen.com or Graham.Esdale@beasleyallen.com. Graham is handling individual cases in state courts that involve injury or death.
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