- Eastern Group Publications/EGPNews - http://egpnews.com -

Lawsuit Against Toyota Nears Final Settlement

A federal judge late last week granted preliminary approval of a $1.3 billion settlement of a class action lawsuit against Toyota regarding runaway vehicle problems.

Now that U.S. District Judge James Selna has preliminarily approved the settlement, which cover claims of economic loss due to the sudden-acceleration issues, Toyota consumers covered in the class will be contacted starting in March, according to Selna’s order.

On June 14, Selna will hold a fairness hearing on the settlement.

The settlement was reached Dec. 26. Steven W. Berman, one of the lead attorneys representing consumers who say they lost value on their vehicles, said it was the largest agreement of its kind in U.S. history.

The settlement was in the works for about a year, Berman said.

The personal-injury and wrongful-death claims against the international automotive giant will be handled separately. The first of the wrongful death cases was set to go to trial in February in federal court in Santa Ana.

The first wrongful death lawsuit slated to go to trial stems from a Nov. 5, 2010, collision that killed 66-year-old Paul Van Alfen and 38-year-old Charlene Lloyd and injured Van Alfen’s wife, Shirlene, and their son, Cameron, in Utah near the Nevada border.

In the past, Toyota has blamed the sudden acceleration incidents on sticky gas pedals and poorly fitted floor mats. Plaintiffs have alleged Toyota knew of problems with its electronic throttle-control systems and did not fix them with brake-override devices as rival companies did.

Toyota has agreed to put $250 million into a fund for some consumers who lost money on their vehicles from Sept. 1, 2009, to Dec. 31, 2010, because of publicity about the sudden acceleration issues, according to the proposed agreement.

Another $250 million will be available for current consumers ineligible for a brake-override system.

The cost of installing brake-override systems for some Toyota consumers was estimated at $406 million, according to the settlement proposal.

The company will provide a customer care plan to 16 million Toyota owners offering warranties on some parts that plaintiffs allege contributed to runaway vehicles. That plan will be offered for three to 10 years.

The cost of the customer care plan will not exceed $200 million, according to the agreement.

Additionally, Toyota will contribute $30 million in education grants to fund automobile safety research related to the issues in the litigation, according to the proposal.

Toyota also has agreed to pay up to $200 million in attorneys’ fees and $27 million in costs.