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A federal judge has refused to dismiss about a dozen cases alleging that Toyota Motor Corp. failed to inform consumers about a defect in the antilock braking systems of certain Prius and Lexus models. U.S. District Judge Cormac Carney, who is overseeing the multidistrict litigation (MDL) in Santa Ana, Calif., ruled on Jan. 20 that the plaintiffs had established material facts sufficient to pursue claims under California’s Unfair Competition Law and Consumers Legal Remedies Act as well as the implied warranty laws of various states. He dismissed claims of unjust enrichment and threw out one case on statute-of-limitations ground, although he gave the plaintiffs the opportunity to file an amended complaint. In light of his ruling, Carney took off his calendar a previously scheduled hearing on Monday in the MDL. Co-lead plaintiffs’ counsel Paul Kiesel, a partner at Kiesel, Boucher & Larson in Beverly Hills, Calif., called Carney’s order “a well-reasoned decision.” “When the court is evaluating the pleadings, it’s taking the allegations in the complaint as true,” he said. “It’s not the court’s role to be a fact-finder at this stage, but make sure the pleadings are appropriately stated. While the court found a couple claims could not be sustained against Toyota, it found a majority of them can proceed through discovery.” Toyota spokesman Brian Lyons issued a formal statement. “We are confident Plaintiffs will be unable to introduce evidence that actually proves the allegations in their complaint that the Court relied on in denying Toyota’s motion,” he said. The cases were filed after Toyota on Feb. 8, 2010, recalled 150,000 2010 Prius and Lexus HS 250h models because of a defect in their antilock braking systems. The suits claim that Toyota refused to repair the alleged defect. Furthermore, they say, Toyota knew about the alleged defect as early as 2004. The claims were brought on behalf of consumers who bought or leased a 2004 to 2009 Prius, 2006 to 2010 Highland Hybrid, 2006 through 2008 Lexus RX 400h, or 2010 Lexus RX 450h. The suits allege that the antilock braking systems do not engage properly, causing drivers to take longer to stop. The results included accidents that cost plaintiffs “several thousand dollars worth of damage to their cars and other’s cars,” according to Carney’s order. “Plaintiffs have sufficiently alleged actionable omissions of material fact that Toyota had a duty to disclose, namely the alleged ABS defect that posed a safety risk to consumers, that they relied on those omissions, and that they suffered economic injury as a result,” Carney wrote. There also is evidence that the representations in marketing materials and brochures were “misleading,” he added. The MDL is separate from an MDL before U.S. District Judge James Selna, also in Santa Ana, that involves more than 200 claims associated with unintended acceleration. On Nov. 19, Selna refused to dismiss economic damages claims brought by consumers against Toyota and, on Dec. 8, refused to dismiss claims that the alleged defect caused injuries or death.   Amanda Bronstad can be contacted at [email protected].

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