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& Co. has paid more than $4.8 billion into a settlement fund for tens of thousands of claims from people who used its withdrawn painkiller Vioxx.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.
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