Sunday, May 16, 2010

Judge selects lawyers to lead Toyota lawsuits

The federal judge overseeing sudden-acceleration lawsuits against Toyota Motor Corp. appointed 21 plaintiffs' lawyers to manage litigation involving U.S. claims.
Toyota, the world's largest automaker, faces at least 228 federal and 99 state lawsuits including proposed class actions over economic loss and claims of personal injuries or deaths caused by sudden-acceleration incidents. The federal lawsuits were combined April 9 in a multidistrict litigation, or MDL, before U.S. District Judge James V. Selna in Santa Ana, Calif.

More than 70 plaintiffs' lawyers sought appointments to leadership positions in the federal lawsuits, including about 60 who spoke at a hearing before Selna on Thursday. Before the hearing, Selna proposed limiting the number of plaintiffs' attorneys on leadership committees to 12.

"The court became convinced at the initial hearing that a larger group of counsel is needed to meet the needs of the case," the judge said in Friday's order. Selna set the next hearing in the lawsuits for May 28.

The Toyota City, Japan-based company has recalled more than 8 million vehicles for fixes related to sudden, unintended acceleration. The automaker announced in September that it was recalling 3.8 million Toyota and Lexus vehicles because of a defect that may cause floor mats to jam accelerator pedals. The company later recalled vehicles over defects involving the pedals themselves.

All the class actions and most of the individual lawsuits were filed after September, when Toyota began the first of several recalls.

Selna appointed as co-lead counsels for the economic loss plaintiffs Steve Berman at Hagens Berman Sobol Shapiro LLP in Seattle, Marc M. Seltzer at Susman Godfrey LLP in Los Angeles and Frank Pitre at Cotchett Pitre & McCarthy in Burlingame, Calif.

He appointed Elizabeth Cabraser at Lieff Cabraser Heimann & Bernstein LLP in San Francisco and Mark P. Robinson Jr. at Robinson Calcagnie & Robinson in Newport Beach, Calif., as co-leads for personal injury and death cases. Cabraser's firm has filed at least 20 lawsuits against Toyota claiming deaths or injuries caused by unintended acceleration incidents, and Robinson has won multiple million-dollar verdicts against automakers.

Alan Ohnsman in Los Angeles and Bill Callahan in San Diego contributed to this report.

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