Plaintiffs’ lawyers told a federal judge in California on Thursday that he is underestimating the number of attorneys who will be needed to steer the multidistrict litigation against Toyota Motor Corp. over sudden unintended acceleration.
Each of the 70 or so lawyers lining up to address U.S. District Judge James V. Selna received no more than five minutes to convince him that they deserved a seat on one of at least three prominent committees in the litigation.
More than 200 lawsuits in the MDL have been brought by consumers whose recalled Toyota vehicles have declined in value or on behalf of people who have been injured or died in a Toyota.
One hour before the start of the hearing in Santa Ana, Calif., more than 50 lawyers had packed the courtroom — with more spilling into an overflow room.
“Together we are beginning a daunting but I believe doable task,” Selna told the crowd.
Many of the lawyers had attended a conference the day before in nearby Costa Mesa, Calif., to plot strategy. Also on Wednesday, Selna created a liaison committee for the personal injury cases, a lead counsel committee for the economic loss cases and a core discovery committee. He designated a slot for an attorney to serve as liaison to the Toyota lawsuits pending in state courts nationwide.
On Thursday, most of the lawyers argued that the committees — which under Selna’s order would total about a dozen lawyers — should include at least six more attorneys.
For instance, Monica Kelly of Ribbeck Law in Chicago said that an additional lawyer should be designated to represent plaintiffs outside the United States. More than 4 million class members are located in Germany, Turkey and Mexico, where her firm represents some plaintiffs, and elsewhere.
“This is a worldwide recall,” she said. “Therefore, I think it is important to take into account this group.”
Others, such as Jerome Ringler, name partner of Ringler Kearney Alvarez, in Los Angeles, argued that separate counsel should be appointed to represent the rental car companies, which have lost $200 million from the Toyota recalls. Selna had left open a spot on the economic loss committee for all plaintiffs that aren’t consumers, including auto dealerships and the rental car companies. Those two parties might have interests that conflict, Ringler said.
In advocating for themselves, lawyers pitched their expertise in class actions, work on other MDLs, their familiarity with Japan, their ability to speak Spanish and the hundreds of thousands of dollars they have already spent on their cases.
Cari Dawson, a lawyer for Toyota, argued that the cases should be divided according to the three defects that have been blamed for unintended sudden acceleration: floor mats, accelerator pedals and the electronic throttle system.
“We may be able to develop tracks for those specific types of cases,” said Dawson, of Alston & Bird.
The next hearing in the MDL is scheduled for May 28.