Toyota now faces 327 state, federal lawsuits

DETROIT (AP) - Toyota Motor Corp. now faces more than 320
lawsuits in federal and state court related to its sudden
acceleration problems.
In a report filed Friday with U.S. District Judge James Selna,
attorneys for the plaintiffs and Toyota listed 228 federal cases
and 99 related cases in state courts. A judicial panel consolidated
the federal cases before Selna last month.
Selna's court is in Orange County, California, near Los Angeles
and close to Toyota's U.S. headquarters. The next court date in the
case is scheduled for May 13.
The lawsuits began appearing last fall as Toyota initiated the
first of a series of recalls eventually involving about 8 million
vehicles - including about 6 million in the U.S. - over
acceleration problems in several models and brake issues with the
popular Prius hybrid. Toyota said the acceleration problems were
caused by faulty floor mats and sticky accelerator pedals. Some
plaintiffs also claim that there is a defect with Toyota's
electronic throttle control system, but Toyota denies that.
Plaintiffs are alleging injury and death due to the sudden
acceleration as well as breach of warranty, fraud and economic
injury because the values of their vehicles plummeted after the
recalls. A key early decision in those cases is whether to
establish millions of similar Toyota owners as a single class,
meaning all would be affected by a potential damages award or
settlement. In the documents filed Friday, Toyota says that drivers
who haven't experienced any malfunctions shouldn't be included in
the class.
Attorneys estimate that if Toyota were to settle the cases for
even a modest payout to affected motorists, it could cost the
company at least $3 billion and possibly much more. In comparison,
drug maker Merck & Co. has paid more than $4.8 billion into a
settlement fund for tens of thousands of claims from people who
used its withdrawn painkiller Vioxx.
Toyota already has paid a record $16.4 million fine to the
National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, which linked 52
deaths to acceleration problems.

(Copyright 2010 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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