Toyota and plaintiff lawyers begin settlement process on sudden-acceleration

Article by Anita Panait, on December 17, 2013

An “intensive settlement process” will be commenced between Toyota Motor Corp. and lawyers to resolve claims alleging that its vehicles suddenly accelerated causing death or injury, United States District Judge James V. Selna in Santa Ana, Calif., disclosed. Selna has issued an order stopping the lawsuits after Toyota and the plaintiffs’ lawyers asked for time to try settling the cases.

Selna was scheduled to hear the first trial in March of around consolidated 200 federal claims. “Participation in the intensive settlement process is open to all plaintiffs,” Selna said in the order, adding that cases not resolved during the initial settlement conference "shall be set for a formal mediation.”

The settlement process comes less than two months after the Japanese carmaker lost its first trial in a suit, alleging an electronic defect can cause its vehicles to speed up uncontrollably. Toyota settled the case after an Oklahoma City jury in October ordered it to pay $3 million.

Selna set a hearing for Jan. 14, 2014, for any comment on the settlement process. He said that settlement conferences would commence in February 2014. The settlement process will include cases consolidated in state court in Los Angeles, according to Toyota spokeswoman Carly Schaffner. “This process will bring greater efficiency to the resolution of pending cases and provide a clear path forward for those claims that cannot be resolved outside of trial,” Schaffner told Bloomberg in an e-mail.

According to Todd Walburg, one of the lead plaintiffs’ attorneys in the federal court cases, any lawsuits not resolved via the settlement or mediation process might go to trial. The process “provides immediate access to plaintiffs who would like to resolve their cases or the ability to determine whether a trial is in their best interest,” he said in a statement.

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