Headquarters of Toyota Motor Sales, U.S.A., in Torrance, California
Headquarters of Toyota Motor Sales, U.S.A., in Torrance, California (Credit: Coolcaesar via Wikimedia Commons)

An attorney for Toyota Motor Corp. said Tuesday that the automaker is in negotiations with attorneys for nearly one-third of the 450 remaining wrongful-death and personal injury cases filed over sudden-acceleration defects.

John Hooper, a partner in Reed Smith’s New York office, gave the report during a hearing in Santa Ana, Calif., before U.S. District Judge James Selna, who has approved a process proposed last month by both sides to resolve the remaining acceleration cases.

Selna, overseeing the litigation coordinated in federal court against Toyota, said no one had officially objected as of his Jan. 8 deadline to what he called a “very constructive and thorough settlement process.” He ordered the parties to submit monthly status reports, which will be available to the public, and scheduled an April 29 hearing.

“We’re already in negotiations with attorneys representing one-third of the litigation,” Hooper said. He added that some cases already had been resolved. “We expect to get an even larger response after this proceeding.”

Both sides outlined the “intensive settlement process” in a Dec. 12 court filing. The first stage of the process, which technically is scheduled to begin next month, would involve the parties and their lawyers in negotiations. Cases not settled would go to mediation in a second phase. If cases still aren’t settled, they would be sent to the court in which they were filed for trial.

“We’ll continue to fight the cases we’re unable to resolve,” Hooper said.

Mediator Patrick Juneau serves as special master in the settlement process. He also heads the claims administration process in the $9.6 billion settlement with BP PLC over economic damages claims tied to the Deepwater Horizon oil spill.

S. Scott West of The West Law Firm in Sugar Land, Texas, a lead plaintiffs attorney in a separate coordinated proceeding in Houston, said during the hearing that both sides plan to submit a joint motion to approve the process this week for state court cases in Texas.

Pending trials have been stayed while the settlement process goes forward. The only exception is a case brought by the family of California Highway Patrol Officer Mark Saylor, who died, along with three other passengers, when the Lexus he rented from a dealership accelerated down a San Diego highway and crashed in 2009. Toyota paid $10 million to settle the case, but the Saylor family’s case against the dealership is scheduled for trial next year.

Last year, Toyota reached a $1.6 billion settlement of economic damages claims related to the recalls.

Contact Amanda Bronstad at abronstad@alm.com.