Lawyers suing Toyota Motor Corp. and those for the automaker were told by a federal judge to quickly resolve an evidence dispute so the first cases over unintended sudden acceleration of its vehicles can go to trial in the first three months of 2013.
U.S. District Judge James V. Selna in Santa Ana, California, told the lawyers to decide procedures for examining the Toyota software source code for its electronic throttle control system, which has been blamed by some plaintiffs for instances of unintended acceleration.
“I think it’s important that these underbrush issues get teed up and resolved so the discovery can go forth and we can proceed with these trials,” Selna said today in court, also referring to other issues related to evidence in the lawsuits.
Selna is overseeing hundreds of cases coordinated in multidistrict litigation. The federal lawsuits against Toyota alleging economic loss, wrongful death or personal injury from sudden unintended acceleration were consolidated before him in April.
Toyota, the world’s largest automaker, recalled millions of U.S. vehicles last year and in 2009, most for defects related to unintended acceleration. It paid a record $48.8 million in fines for how some of the recalls were conducted. The carmaker said yesterday that it’s recalling another 2.17 million vehicles in the U.S. for carpet and floor-mat flaws that could jam gas pedals.
Access to the source code, which is the programming for the throttle system, has been disputed for several months by the two sides and was described by the judge as one of the key issues to be resolved before trials can begin. The judge said the plaintiffs’ lawyers have a right to review the code to allow their experts to determine whether the system caused the acceleration problems. Toyota lawyers said they want sufficient safeguards to prevent the codes, which are trade secrets, from becoming public and available to their competitors.
“There’s no disagreement between us over what they want to see, the only question is the mechanism of monitoring,” Joel Smith, a lawyer for Toyota, told Selna.
Mark Robinson, a lawyer for the plaintiffs, told the judge that their experts won’t violate confidentiality.
“One thing we don’t want to do is to get blamed for the source code getting out to the public,” Robinson said.
The coordinated cases are 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).
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