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Plaintiff Lawyers Vie for Coveted Lead Counsel Role in Toyota Litigation

Posted Mar 25, 2010 3:26 PM CDT
By Martha Neil

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Some 100 lawsuits have been filed against Toyota Motor Corp. throughout the United States, blaming the automaker for alleged injuries ranging from fatal accidents to diminished vehicle value after widespread reports of claimed sudden-acceleration problems with some models.

But by the time the U.S. Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation reaches a conclusion about 2-minute presentations being made by dozens of attorneys today in San Diego, the personal injury and wrongful death suits will likely be consolidated into a single case, or perhaps a handful of cases, according to the Wall Street Journal.

As plaintiffs lawyers vie for the fat legal fees that lead attorneys in the consolidated litigation are expected to earn, there has been considerable jockeying for position.

Among 100 lawyers who met in a hotel ballroom for a "Toyota Recall Litigation Conference" yesterday, a few stars have emerged, the newspaper recounts. They include Mark Lanier of Houston, who was routinely trailed by a group of followers and told a rapt audience at one point that he could lead a trial like a "ballet" or like a World Wrestling Federation event to accord with the tastes of the judge selected to oversee the Toyota case.

At one point, after a follower patted his arm in approval, Lanier told the WSJ he had no idea who the man was. But, he hastened to add, "This is about making friends, not burning bridges."

A Toyota representative declined to comment, the newspaper reports, but the company wants the multidistrict litigation to be centered in California, where its U.S. operations are headquartered.

And Los Angeles appears to be a front-runner among the 19 jurisdictions being considered by the panel of judges, reports the Associated Press.

"We feel the center of gravity is in California," says class action attorney Mark Robinson. He is well-known for negotiating a $128 million settlement over Ford Pinto fuel tanks that exploded and incinerated a number of individuals after rear-end collisions.

In addition to being named as a defendant in about 97 personal injury and wrongful death claims in federal courts throughout the country, the automaker also faces 138 potential class-actions over the diminished value of Toyota vehicles, the AP notes.

Additional coverage:

ABAJournal.com: "Complex Toyota Case Could Rival Tobacco Litigation, Plaintiffs Lawyers Predict"

ABAJournal.com: "Feds Launch Toyota Criminal Probe as SEC Scrutinizes Investor Disclosures"

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