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Toyota settlement likely to be sealed

Associated Press / September 21, 2010

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SANTA ANA, California — A judge said yesterday he’s inclined to keep confidential a settlement between Toyota Motor Corp. and the relatives of four people killed when a driver was unable to stop a runaway Lexus.

Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Anthony Mohr said he would probably sign such a sealing order.

A lawyer for Bob Baker Lexus, the dealer that loaned the family the car, objected because Toyota’s settlement doesn’t cover separate negligence claims against the dealership. The lawyer, Larry Willis, said last week that Toyota was looking to protect its own interests and cut out its dealer.

The August 2009 crash killed off-duty California Highway Patrol Officer Mark Saylor, his wife, their daughter, and Saylor’s brother-in-law.

Toyota subsequently recalled millions of cars to replace floor mats it said could cause the accelerator to jam. The Japanese automaker later recalled millions more vehicles to replace gas pedals it said could stick.

Mohr’s announcement came during a rare joint hearing with the federal judge overseeing claims filed in federal court against Toyota.

Mohr, who was chosen to oversee all the state claims against Toyota, generally endorsed the idea of settlements between parties and offered his own take on why the terms should remain confidential.

“These people suddenly become magnets for promoters and others seeking to profit,’’ the judge said. “That could well be a reason right there.’’