Lawyers maneuver for lead positions in Toyota lawsuits
More than 70 set to make their case to US judge to head key committees
SANTA ANA, Calif. — Dozens of lawyers jockeyed yesterday to take a lead position battling
More than 70 lawyers were expected to try and dazzle US District Judge James Selna with their expertise to head three committees that will oversee key components of the litigation.
At stake is potentially millions of dollars that a judge can appropriate for attorneys if a settlement or award is reached.
“The leadership you appoint here is going to dominate the case,’’ said plaintiff’s attorney Daniel Becnel of Louisiana.
More than 320 lawsuits have been filed in federal and state court against the Japanese automaker after it began recalling about 8 million vehicles because of acceleration problems in several models and brake glitches with the popular Prius hybrid.
Some of the lawsuits seek compensation for injury and death due to sudden acceleration, while others claim economic loss because the value of vehicles plummeted after the recalls.
Toyota blamed faulty floor mats and sticky accelerator pedals for the unintended acceleration. Some plaintiffs also claim that there is a defect with Toyota’s electronic throttle control system, but Toyota denies that.
A judicial panel last month consolidated the federal cases in Orange County and chose Selna to preside over them.
Toyota’s lead attorney, Cari Dawson of Atlanta, suggested that some cases may be more quickly resolved if they are grouped by those involving vehicles that have been subjected to recall and those that have not.
“It’s a win-win, not only for the court but for the parties,’’ Dawson said. “If this is all grouped in, there will be some delay to have them lock-stepped together.’’
Toyota has paid a record $16.4 million fine to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration for failing to report its safety problems to the government in a timely manner.
The agency has linked 52 deaths to Toyota acceleration problems.
In a tentative ruling late Wednesday, Selna set a framework for the plaintiffs’ attorneys in which one panel would have five lawyers overseeing the wrongful death cases.
Seven other would handle the economic loss lawsuits, and one would deal with discovery.
Some attorneys anticipate at least a $3 billion payout if Toyota decides to settle the cases.