Toyota managed to survive the last week of May without being threatened with any multi-million dollar fines. That’s likely because the embattled Japanese auto company already paid the Department of Transportation $16.4 million due to the hullabaloo surrounding its unintended acceleration problems, or because safety advocates are focusing on the BP oil disaster in the Gulf Coast for now. But that doesn’t mean Toyota had a dull week.
Here in California, Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Carl West consolidated about thirty state plaintiffs’ suits into a single case, merging eight personal injury complaints with those seeking economic recovery for property damages. The decision set off a dispute about where the catchall case would take place: Santa Ana or San Diego. While plaintiffs shoot for the former, Toyota is gunning for the latter. This has led Garo Mardirossian, a lawyer representing the family of a popular sushi restaurant owner who was killed in an acceleration-related Toyota accident, to accuse the company of manipulating the system to get a more sympathetic jury. “Orange County has a more conservative jury pool than L.A., and [Toyota] is trying to do a bit of forum shopping,” he said.
Lawyers on both sides have maintained that the 100 state cases and 230 federal cases will remain separate. This week, the federal case heated up in California when US District Judge James Selna ordered Toyota to provide the court with company records on acceleration problems. Toyota initially balked, saying it would be difficult to turn over the documents quickly, many of which are confidential and/or written in Japanese. Selna rejected this reasoning, and offered additional time for translation and filtering information that would be inadmissible in a federal court.
So Toyota lawsuits keep limping along here in California and across the country. We’ll keep you updated along the way.