U.S. District Judge Federico A. Moreno, the Florida federal judge who is presiding over the Takata Corp. air bag multidistrict litigation (MDL), has ordered that amended complaints be filed under a two-track structure — personal injury and economic damages — led by lawyers from these firms: Podhurst Orseck, Colson Hicks Eidson; Boies Schiller & Flexner and Power Rogers & Smith. The judge selected these firms from a pool of lawyers from several high-profile firms that had sought a lead counsel position. Peter Prieto of Podhurst Orseck was appointed chair lead counsel. Curtis Miner of Colson Hicks was appointed lead counsel for the personal injury track. Todd A. Smith of Power Rogers and David Boies of Boies Schiller were appointed co-lead counsels for the economic damages track.
The personal injury track will handle all actions brought by individual Plaintiffs claiming injuries as a result of the defective air bags. The economic damages track will include actions where economic damages without personal injuries are claimed. Judge Moreno selected James Cecchi, Elizabeth Cabraser and Roland Tellis for the steering committee. It’s possible that additional lawyers may be appointed to the steering committee if lead counsel determines there is a need. Prieto was allowed to propose up to three additional members for approval from the court.
Lead counsels from both tracks had until April 30 to file amended complaints, each under one case name and number of any of the current pending federal cases against Takata in Florida. Discovery on the underlying product liability cases for both tracks was ordered to be coordinated. But discovery on the personal injury damages that are unrelated to the product liability cases are to proceed with each individual lawyer representing individual Plaintiffs without delay. The judge added that at the end of the discovery process, barring summary judgment, cases for clients who allege personal injury should be severed and proceed to separate trials. The court’s order said:
Upon the filing of the two amended complaints in both tracks, 11 other cases shall be placed in “civil suspense” and provisionally closed, with leave to reopen after all pre-trial proceedings have concluded.
Judge Moreno said he expects the cases in both tracks to be tried in his district in early 2016, barring any appeal on class certification. That is very good and should mean that this litigation is on a fast track. More than 17 million vehicles with Takata air bags have been recalled worldwide because of a defect that causes the bags to explode in humid conditions, with most of those recalls coming just in the past year, according to court papers.
The automakers knew of the defect as early as 2008, but chose not to address it. The defect in the air bags dates back to at least April 2000. Takata definitely became aware of it as early as 2001. However, the defect wasn’t disclosed to NHTSA until 2008. In early February, the U.S. Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation centralized five proposed class actions in Florida federal court and appointed Judge Moreno to oversee the litigation. This story is still unfolding and it’s far from over.
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