Trials & Litigation

Judge OKs $1.6B pact in Toyota class action as trial begins in first wrongful death case

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A record $1.6 billion settlement approved last week by a federal judge in Orange County, Calif., is only part of the potential liability that Toyota Motor Sales, U.S.A. Inc. is facing as the first trial begins in more than 80 state court suits filed over alleged sudden-acceleration defects in the company’s vehicles.

The company has previously settled some tort claims, and U.S. District Judge James V. Selna on Friday OK’d a $1.6 billion settlement in a federal class action filed over economic loss suffered by owners who say their vehicles lost value over the adverse publicity about the issue, according to the Associated Press and the New York Times (reg. req.).

Another Associated Press article and Automotive News provide additional details.

Attorney Steve Berman, who represents plaintiffs in the case, said owners who sold their vehicles at a loss will get between $125 and $10,000 each. He said the $1.6 billion settlement is the highest ever in an automotive defects case, the AP article notes.

About 22 million customers will be affected by the settlement, which also includes a promise to retrofit about 3.2 Toyota vehicles with an override system in which the braking message will take precedence even if the accelerator is depressed at the time. Attorney fees and costs account for about $227 million, according to the Associated Press.

“This agreement allows us to resolve a legacy legal issue in a way that provides significant value to our customers and demonstrates that they can depend on Toyota to stand behind our vehicles,” a spokeswoman for Toyota told the Times concerning the $1.6 billion settlement.

Meanwhile, jury selection began Monday in Los Angeles, in the first of some 80 lawsuits still pending against Toyota. It concerns the death of Noriko Uno, a 66-year-old bookkeeper who lost control of her 2006 Camry in August 2009 when her vehicle suddenly accelerated to 100 mph.

Toyota has denied liability for the claimed sudden-acceleration problem with its vehicles, blaming driver error, a floor-mat fault and stuck accelerators. Multiple plaintiffs contend that a defective electronic throttle control system is at fault.

See also: (Dec. 2010): “Judge Nixes Secrecy Pact in High-Profile Fatal Toyota Crash Settlement; Automaker Paid $10M” (Feb. 2011): “Lawyers See Flaws in Government Report Finding No Electronic Problems in Toyotas” (Jan. 2013): “Two Toyota sudden acceleration cases are settled; terms and evidence are secret” (Feb. 2013): “Toyota to pay $29M to resolve state probes of its handling of sudden acceleration claims”

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