A sudden-acceleration case against Toyota Motor Corp. is headed for settlement, a turn of events that would call off a bellwether trial against the automaker scheduled for next month.
The case is the first of the consolidated sudden-acceleration lawsuits claiming personal injury against Toyota set for trial. It was brought by the family of Paul Van Alfen, a 66-year-old Utah resident who was killed three years ago while driving a 2008 Camry.
Plaintiffs lawyers argued that his car suddenly accelerated on an Interstate 80 exit ramp and crashed into a wall, also killing a passenger and injuring two others.
The trial was slated to start February 16 in the U.S. district court in Santa Ana, Calif., before Judge James Selna, but sources said on January 16 that the automaker and the plaintiffs had reached an agreement to settle the case. Mark Robinson, a lawyer representing the plaintiffs, told Bloomberg News on January 16 that the parties had reached a settlement, and that its terms were confidential. Another source, who has direct knowledge of the case but is not authorized to speak publicly, said that Toyota and plaintiffs attorneys had agreed on the terms of the settlement, which had not received final approval. Attorneys for Toyota and company representatives did not respond to requests for comment.
The agreement follows a $1.3 billion settlement reached last month between Toyota and plaintiffs claiming economic losses as a result of the defective cars.
A settlement in the Val Alfen matter is significant since it is a case with issues common to the other personal injury cases brought against the automaker, said Carl Tobias, a professor at the University of Richmond School of Law.
Even so, the agreement does not mean that Toyota necessarily will settle other personal injury cases pending, he said.
“Settling one doesn’t mean they’ll settle all of them or have a global settlement,” he said. “It’s a sign that the company was concerned about having this bellwether case go to trial.”
The Van Alfen case was dismissed in 2011 after Selna determined it should have been filed in state court in Utah. The case was reinstated after plaintiffs lawyers removed one of the defendants from Utah.
As many as 500 cases against the Japanese automaker claiming economic losses or personal injury damages are pending in California, New York and Texas.
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