Toyota wins dismissal of the first sudden acceleration lawsuit

Article by Christian A., on October 3, 2011

The first test case for the sudden acceleration suit against Toyota Motor Corp. set to go on trial in California in February 2013 has been dismissed. This first bellwether case was initiated by the families of two people who died in a crash in Utah in 2010. A federal judge said that the case should have been filed in state court in Utah.

In 2009, Toyota recalled at least 8 million U.S. vehicles beginning in 2009, related to claims of unintended acceleration. These recalls had led to the filing of hundreds of economic-loss suits and claims of injuries and deaths.

The case was dismissed by U.S. District Judge James V. Selna in Santa Ana, Calif., after determining that a federal warranty claim in the lawsuit wasn’t able to comply with a required $50,000 threshold for damages. Judge Selna said that under federal law, the plaintiffs are unable to count potential personal injury or punitive damages to meet this requirement. He cited “lack of jurisdiction” for dismissing the case.

Mark Robinson, an attorney for the plaintiffs, said that this ruling doesn’t mean that the case won’t be tried or would not remain in federal court. Robinson said that the warranty claim, brought under the federal Magnuson Moss Warranty Act, is targeted at the dealer and isn’t crucial to the lawsuit filed against Toyota.

He added that the company is currently drafting a complaint where the dealer won’t be a defendant and where “everything will be cured” and the suit will proceed, demanding punitive damages among other costs.

Earlier this year, Judge Selna has granted Toyota Motor Corp.’s request to dismiss lawsuits filed by a group of 41 plaintiffs from 13 countries related to sudden unintended acceleration claims due to lack of jurisdiction.

In particular, the plaintiffs had sought permission in the U.S. court to file a lawsuit against Toyota for claims that the value of their cars had diminished due to the flaw. The flaw prompted the carmaker to recall millions of its vehicles.

Judge Selna ruled that he lacks jurisdiction on the claims of the plaintiffs, who came from countries in Central America, Asia and Australia. He also said that the plaintiffs failed to show sufficient evidence that they should join the litigation in the US. Toyota recalled more than a million of its US vehicles in 2009 and in 2010 due to sudden unintended acceleration, among other reasons.

Toyota expended $48.8 million in fines related to the recalls. The Japanese company is also recalling around 2.17 million cars in the US for flaws related to floor-mat and carpet, where gas pedals could get stuck.

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