The U.S. Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation has decided that the federal Toyota litigation, involving class action lawsuits and individual injury lawsuits filed over sudden acceleration problems with millions of recalled vehicles, will be consolidated and centralized for pretrial litigation in the Central District of California.
According to an order issued April 9, 2010, there are currently 11 Toyota sudden acceleration cases pending that involve sufficiently common questions of fact to support centralization in a multidistrict litigation, or MDL, for pretrial proceedings. In addition, the court knows of about 40 similar lawsuits which may be included in the MDL at a later date.
The consolidation of the Toyota recall litigation comes as federal regulators look for ways to penalize Toyota over what they say was an intentional cover up of problems with sudden acceleration in Toyota vehicles that put lives at risk. Last week, the Department of Transportation (DOT) announced that it was fining Toyota $16.4 million. However, U.S. officials also sent a letter to Toyota saying that if it were not for statutory limits, they would have fined the company more than $13 billion, and are considering other fines against the company.
While the $16.4 million is minor for a company the size of Toyota, experts say the real damage could be the inclusion of the federal government’s fines, condemnation, and documentation indicating a cover up in the Toyota recall lawsuits. The DOT says it has internal memos indicating that Toyota sat on the gas pedal problem for four months before issuing a recall, which could make the company vulnerable to punitive damages.
Toyota has recalled nearly 9 million vehicles since September 2009, with 8.5 million recalled due to complaints that they can accelerate out of control. The acceleration recalls were done in waves, starting with 4.2 million recalled for problems involving the floormats, and then later recalls indicated that there was a mechanical or electrical problem with the gas pedals.
The gas pedal problems have resulted in a number of Toyota consumer class action lawsuits, Toyota injury lawsuits and Toyota wrongful death lawsuits filed by family members of people allegedly killed when their vehicles accelerated out of control.
The federal Toyota litigation will be centralized before U.S. District Judge James V. Selna for coordinated handling. The panel indicated that the district, where Toyota’s USA division is headquartered, was best suited to handle the potential flood of Toyota gas pedal lawsuits.
The panel stated that Selna has the proper experience with complex litigation to handle the case, and pointed out that many of the witnesses are relevant documents are likely located in this district. The panel also said that consolidation under Selna will avoid duplicate discovery, inconsistent rulings from different judges and to serve the convenience of the court, the parties and witnesses.
“Though these cases have attracted an unusual amount of publicity to the Panel’s work, in all relevant aspects, the issues here are neither dramatically different nor more complex than those we regularly resolve,” the panel stated in its transfer order.
As Toyota sudden acceleration lawyers file additional cases in the future over problems with Toyota vehicle gas pedals, the lawsuits will be transferred into the MDL. If the cases do not settle or otherwise resolve during pretrial litigation, they will be returned to the district where they were filed for individual trials.