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Toyota Must Tell Dealers to Keep Evidence, Judge in Federal Lawsuits Rules

Toyota Motor Corp. must direct its dealers to preserve documents related to allegations of sudden acceleration, a judge overseeing federal lawsuits ruled.

The company has to order the preservation of material held by Lexus and Toyota dealers because such evidence could be relevant to hundreds of lawsuits, U.S. District Judge James V. Selna in Santa Ana, California, said today at a hearing. Selna is overseeing all federal suits against the automaker over sudden-acceleration claims.

Toyota lawyers told the judge that the company doesn’t have direct control over dealerships, particularly those that don’t file documents electronically, and that it couldn’t enforce such an order.

Brian Lyons, a Toyota spokesman, didn’t immediately return a call for comment after the ruling.

Toyota, the world’s largest automaker, faces more than 300 federal and state lawsuits including proposed class actions over economic losses and claims of personal injuries or deaths caused by sudden-acceleration incidents. The federal lawsuits in April were combined before Selna in a multidistrict litigation, or MDL.

The company, based in Toyota City, Japan, has recalled more than 8 million vehicles for repaired related to sudden, unintended acceleration. In September the automaker announced a recall of 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.

The cases are combined as In re Toyota Motor Corp. Unintended Acceleration Marketing, Sales Practices and Products Liability Litigation, 8:10-ml-02151, U.S. District Court, Central District of California (Santa Ana).

To contact the reporters on this story: Bill Callahan in San Diego at callahan@san.rr.com; Margaret Cronin Fisk in Southfield, Michigan, at mcfisk@bloomberg.net.

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