Plaintiffs’ lawyers in the multidistrict litigation (MDL) against Toyota Motor Corp. over sudden acceleration claims have filed a 695-page amended complaint in an attempt to salvage dozens of their cases, which assert economic damages on behalf of consumers and businesses.
The complaint, filed on Wednesday, amends a previous filing that alleged Toyota knowingly hid defects associated with unintended acceleration beginning in 2002 while falsely assuring consumers about the safety of its vehicles.
The original complaint, filed on Aug. 2 and brought on behalf of a nationwide class, alleged violations under California law.
At a hearing last month, U.S. District Judge James Selna in Santa Ana, Calif., raised questions about how to handle suits in the MDL that asserted claims not included in the original complaint, such as those in states other than California.
He allowed the plaintiffs’ attorneys to retain those claims on the premise that they be identified in the master complaint. Otherwise, Selna said, he would dismiss the claims.
The judge’s order came after Toyota raised concerns that the MDL was becoming “unmanageable.”
“Toyota’s concern is they didn’t want us to go for years and years litigating and all of a sudden we raised all these new state claims,” said Steve Berman, managing partner of Seattle’s Hagens Berman Sobol Shapiro, and co-lead counsel of the plaintiffs’ steering committee in the MDL, which involves more than 200 lawsuits alleging economic damages on behalf of consumers and businesses. Berman continues to maintain that California law applies to a nationwide class of consumers, but he anticipated that the issue would be addressed at the next hearing on Nov. 9.
“If we’re right and California law applies, all these state laws and state classes we put in this document don’t need to be addressed,” he said.
In the event that California law does not apply, the complaint lists claims under the laws of all 50 states.
The complaint also addresses some of the arguments put forth in Toyota’s motion to dismiss, filed last month. One of Toyota’s defenses is that the plaintiffs failed to identify a “common defect” in the electronic throttle control system of the vehicles at issue. Toyota said it has already addressed the unintended acceleration problem by recalling vehicles with defective floor mats and “sticky” accelerator pedals, the motion says.
Toyota’s motion also said that about half of the named plaintiffs in the original complaint did not experience unintended acceleration and cannot, as a result, pursue a claim.
The new complaint cites specific examples of known defects in vehicles owned by members of the proposed class, Berman said.
“They’re claiming there’s no defect, that we haven’t identified a defect, so we went and found examples where their technicians took vehicles out and replicated the defect and found no pedal or floor mat issue,” Berman said.
The complaint cites several examples in which Toyota encouraged customers to sell back their vehicles to the company after technicians discovered incidences of sudden acceleration. “And, to further conceal the defect, Toyota required as a condition of the vehicle repurchase that the owner sign a confidentiality agreement and agree not to sue,” the complaint states.
As to the consumers whose vehicles had no problems, the complaint added an alleged “internal death by [sudden unintended acceleration] chart” from Toyota: a list of 24 incidents involving deaths due to sudden acceleration of its vehicles.
“It’s a chart they created. It shows a pattern they’ve known since at least 2002 that they were having serious issues with respect to unintended acceleration,” Berman said. “When you have a safety issue, you don’t have to wait for the bomb to go off before you have a problem.”
Toyota also has filed several motions to dismiss some of the 100 lawsuits filed on behalf of individuals who allegedly were injured or died in vehicles that suddenly accelerated. Those cases are part of the MDL.
A hearing on all of Toyota’s dismissal motions is scheduled for Nov. 19.
Amanda Bronstad can be contacted at email@example.com.