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NOTE: This headline has been changed to reflect the fact the the judge refused to take judicial notice of the government report, rather than exclude it. A federal judge has refused to grant Toyota Motor Corp.’s motion to dismiss a consolidated class action involving sudden acceleration claims, concluding in a tentative ruling that the plaintiffs had raised sufficient injuries to move forward. U.S. District Judge James Selna, who is overseeing more than 200 sudden acceleration lawsuits in multidistrict litigation, also refused to take judicial notice of the executive summary and findings of a Feb. 8 report by the U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and the National Aeronautics & Space Administration concluding there was insufficient proof of electronic defects in Toyota vehicles. Rather, the report found that mechanical defects — specifically, faulty floor mats and accelerator pedals — caused the sudden acceleration. Toyota has recalled nearly 10 million vehicles because of the problems and has paid $48.8 million in related civil penalties. “We are gratified with Judge Selna’s tentative ruling, and his decision to move this litigation forward,” said Steve Berman, managing partner of Seattle’s Hagens Berman Sobol Shapiro, in a prepared statement. Berman is co-lead counsel of the plaintiffs’ steering committee for the consolidated class action case in the MDL. “Millions of consumers are watching this case, and are looking forward to having their claims heard in court. With Selna’s ruling, we are one step closer.” Toyota spokeswoman Celeste Migliore declined to comment until following a hearing Friday afternoon in Santa Ana, Calif., during which Selna was expected to issue a final ruling on its motion to dismiss. The tentative decision related to the second amended economic loss master consolidated complaint, a nationwide class action filed on behalf of Toyota consumers who allege economic losses due to the sudden acceleration defects. The ruling did not pertain to claims of personal injuries or wrongful deaths caused by accidents attributed to sudden acceleration. On Nov. 30, Selna denied a motion to dismiss the master consolidated complaint, finding that consumers who overpaid for their vehicles, made lease payments that were too high or sold their vehicles at a loss had established sufficient economic injuries. But he granted dismissal of claims by some consumers who failed to assert sufficient injuries beyond the fact that they had purchased a Toyota vehicle that was later recalled. In the amended action, plaintiffs added that those consumers relied on advertising materials promoting the safety of Toyota vehicles. They also said the vehicles lacked a fail-safe mechanism that would have prevented them from accelerating out of control. In his tentative order, Selna found those added claims convincing. “Virtually every Plaintiff alleges that he or she would probably not have purchased or leased his or her Toyota vehicle had the defect been known at the time of purchase, but certainly would not have paid as much for it,” he wrote. “Plaintiffs bargained for safe, defect-free vehicles, but instead received unsafe, defective vehicles. A vehicle with a defect is worth less than one without a defect. The overpayment for the defective, unsafe vehicle constitutes the economic-loss injury that is sufficient to confer standing.” Regarding the government agency report, Selna said: “The materials filed by the Toyota Defendants go far beyond mere ‘background material’ and instead implicate the key disputed factual allegations at issue in this action; as such, they are materials that are clearly ‘subject to reasonable dispute’ and thus are not proper subjects of judicial notice.” Parts of Selna’s tentative decision were favorable to Toyota, however. As in his earlier order, he dismissed some warranty claims, the revocation claims and claims of unjust enrichment. Selna also refused to grant Toyota’s motion to strike consumer claims based on violations of the Transportation Recall Enhancement, Accountability and Documentation Act, which imposed stricter reporting requirements on manufacturers following the Ford/Firestone recalls. Toyota argued that its delay in reporting defects to NHTSA had no bearing on whether consumers purchased its cars. In his tentative decision, Selna said that “the fact that Toyota had a duty to disclose to NHTSA rather than consumers does not exonerate the statutory duty to disclose material facts to consumers.”   Amanda Bronstad can be contacted at [email protected].

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