Plaintiffs counsel could seek as much as $7.35 billion from Toyota Motor Co. to compensate consumers for the diminished value of their vehicles in light of problems with sudden unintended acceleration, one of those lawyers said on Wednesday.
"I think we're blazing a new trail," said W. Daniel "Dee" Miles III, a partner at Beasley, Allen, Crow, Methvin, Portis & Miles in Montgomery, Ala. He said the Toyota cases come with unique circumstances compared to other consumer class actions.
Miles spoke during a full-day conference at the Westin South Coast Plaza hotel in Costa Mesa, Calif., organized by the scores of plaintiffs firms in the multidistrict litigation (MDL) against Toyota. The first hearing in the MDL was scheduled for today in federal court in nearby Santa Ana, Calif. The court was expected to discuss which plaintiffs lawyers will serve on the lead counsel committees in the case.
U.S. District Judge James Selna of the Central District of California issued a temporary order on Wednesday appointing Cari Dawson and Lisa Gilford of Alston & Bird as lead defense counsel in the economic loss cases, and Vince Galvin and Joel Smith of Bowman and Brooke as lead defense counsel in the personal injury and wrongful death cases. He did not appoint specific plaintiffs lawyers in his order.
More than 8 million Toyotas have been recalled for defects associated with sudden unintended acceleration. More than 200 lawsuits have been consolidated in the MDL, most of them claiming economic damages on behalf of consumers whose vehicles are now worth less. Additional claims seek damages for those who died or were injured, allegedly due to acceleration in their Toyotas.
The Toyota plaintiffs will enjoy some distinct advantages over other tort actions arising from consumer contracts, said Miles, who addressed a core group of about 40 lawyers. Among them is the fact that several consumer ratings agencies have issued hard estimates that Toyota vehicles have declined in value by between 2.6 percent and 3.77 percent.
That would put losses to consumers at between $5.1 billion and $7.35 billion.
Lawyers at the conference were realistic about the challenges they will face. In particular, they discussed the need to weed out some of their weakest cases in the MDL, which Toyota could suggest for a possible bellwether trial.
"We definitely have some hurdles," said Yvonne Flaherty of Lockridge, Grindal, Nauen in Minneapolis.
Miles remained optimistic that plaintiffs lawyers would succeed. "We have some of the best lawyers in this case."
The conference featured many of the most prominent lawyers in the Toyota litigation, including Richard Arsenault of Neblett, Beard & Arsenault in Alexandria, La., who organized the event; Mark Geragos of the Law Offices of Mark Geragos in Los Angeles, who was the scheduled keynote speaker; Mark Robinson of Robinson, Calcagnie & Robinson in Newport Beach, Calif.; and Elizabeth Cabraser of San Francisco's Lieff, Cabraser, Heimann & Bernstein.