For the past few months, public opinion concerning the Toyota unintended acceleration lawsuits has largely favored the Japanese auto giant. But last week, a federal judge declined to dismiss 40 personal injury and wrongful death lawsuits against Toyota. Most notably, District Judge James Selna said he would address fraudulent concealment claims, which could carry significant punitive fees, and did not dismiss negligence, strict liability, or failure to warn counts against Toyota.
In August, the Wall Street Journal reported that the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s early findings on the subject showed many accidents attributed to unintended acceleration were in fact the result of driver error. In the months following, the mainstream media continued to fault driver error for the Toyota accidents. But more recently, the pendulum has swung back toward the center. In October, Allstate Insurance Company launched a $3 million lawsuit against Toyota to cover 270 insurance claims, and this month, Judge Selna indicated that Toyota could be at fault.
“Toyota demands a level of specificity that is not required at the pleadings stage,” Selna wrote. “The defect is identified: plaintiffs’ cars suddenly and unexpectedly accelerated and did not stop upon proper application of the brake pedal.” Selna also argued that while it appears that Toyota could be at fault, no evidence has overwhelmingly shown that the problems were mechanical in nature, a partial win for the automaker.
Despite Selna’s strong language, Toyota remained confident. “The point of Toyota’s motion to dismiss was to request that Judge Selna require the plaintiffs’ attorneys to provide more specific detail about the accidents and claims, rather than relying on virtually identical boilerplate allegations,” said company spokeswoman Celeste Migliore. “It is unusual for a court to dismiss a complaint totally in response to a first motion to dismiss.”
In addition to these personal injury claims against Toyota, a set of Toyota drivers have filed a class action lawsuit against the company for economic damages that resulted from the unintended acceleration hullabaloo, and a set of more than 100 plaintiffs have filed personal injury lawsuits against the company in Los Angeles County. All Toyota lawsuits are likely to be drawn-out battles. We will keep you updated with information as it arises.
Photo credit: LaurenV.