Toyota Loses Bid to End Speed-Up Injury, Death Suits

A federal judge denied Toyota Motor Corp.’s bid to dismiss lawsuits claiming personal injuries or deaths allegedly caused by incidents of sudden acceleration, making final a tentative ruling.

Lawyers for injured customers and families of those killed in accidents provided enough support for their claims to allow the cases to go forward, U.S. District Judge James V. Selna in Santa Ana, California, said in a ruling posted today on the court’s website. Selna earlier denied Toyota’s motion to dismiss class-action, or group, suits claiming economic losses related to sudden acceleration.

The automaker is accused in the lawsuits of failing to disclose or warn of a defect in its vehicles that could cause sudden acceleration. Toyota said in court filings that the plaintiffs didn’t offer specific allegations of an actual defect and that the company didn’t conceal anything.

“Toyota demands a level of specificity that is not required at the pleadings stage,” Selna wrote in his 34-page ruling. “The defect is identified: plaintiffs’ cars suddenly and unexpectedly accelerate and do not stop upon proper application of the brake pedal.”

Selna denied Toyota’s motion to dismiss the plaintiffs’ claim of fraudulent concealment. “The court finds that the plaintiffs have sufficiently pled fraud” under federal rule of law “to survive a motion to dismiss,” he said.

The judge granted Toyota’s request to have some portions of the case dismissed. He gave lawyers 45 days to refile those claims, according to the ruling.

8 Million Vehicles

The company, based in Toyota City, Japan, has recalled more than 8 million vehicles for repairs related to sudden unintended acceleration. In September 2009, 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.

“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,” Celeste Migliore, company spokeswoman, said in an e-mail. “It is unusual for a court to dismiss a complaint totally in response to a first motion to dismiss.”

Selna’s rulings on motions to dismiss “come at a stage of the legal proceedings in which the judge has to accept that what the plaintiffs allege are true, even though they are unproven,” Migliore said yesterday. “We are confident that as the facts develop in this case they will show that there are no defects in these Toyota vehicles.”

Toyota faces about 400 lawsuits alleging lost vehicle value or injury or death from sudden acceleration.

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: Margaret Cronin Fisk in Southfield, Michigan, at mcfisk@bloomberg.net; Bill Callahan in San Diego at callahan@san.rr.com.

To contact the editor responsible for this story: David E. Rovella at drovella@bloomberg.net.

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