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Toyota Loses Bid to Get Acceleration-Injury Suit Tossed

Oct. 1 (Bloomberg) -- Toyota Motor Corp. asked a judge to reverse a tentative order allowing what would be the first lawsuit to go to trial over claims one of its vehicles suddenly accelerated, causing an accident resulted in an injury.

U.S. District Judge James V. Selna in Santa Ana, California, yesterday issued a tentative ruling denying Toyota’s request for a summary judgment in the lawsuit brought by the estate of Ida St. John, finding sufficient evidence for the case to go forward. The ruling, if made final, would mean St. John’s case will begin trial Nov. 5, the first of the federal claims consolidated before Selna to reach a jury.

“The plaintiff has failed to provide any expert who can specifically identify a mechanical defect as required by Georgia law in order to merit a trial,” Theodore Boutrous, Toyota’s attorney, said at a hearing before Selna today.

Selna said he was taking the matter under submission and would issue a ruling later. “There’s a lot for me to consider here and I want to do so in a timely and systematic manner,” he said.

St. John, then 83, was injured when her 2005 Toyota Camry crashed in April 2009 in Columbus, Georgia. She died after the accident and her grandson is pursuing the lawsuit. He doesn’t claim the accident caused the death.

“A jury could believe Mrs. St. John’s account of her actions, and believing that testimony, could reasonably conclude the existence of a design defect in the Camry,” Selna said. “The record reveals that Toyota received tens of thousands of complaints regarding uncommanded acceleration and/or engine surging in Camrys,” the judge said in the tentative ruling.

‘Source Code’

Carly Schaffner, a Toyota spokeswoman, said by e-mail that “despite nearly three years of litigating this case and unprecedented access to Toyota’s source code, plaintiff’s counsel still have no viable software defect theory and have never replicated unintended acceleration in a Toyota vehicle.”

The carmaker, based in Toyota City, Japan, recalled more than 10 million vehicles for problems related to unintended acceleration in 2009 and 2010, starting with a September 2009 announcement 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.

The recalls set off a flurry of lawsuits claiming defects harmed the value of Toyota vehicles or caused accidents leading to death and injury. The federal suits were consolidated before Selna. Toyota settled the suits claiming economic loss for about $1.6 billion.

The federal 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 Detroit at mcfisk@bloomberg.net; Bill Callahan in federal court in Santa Ana, California, at callahan@san.rr.com.

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Michael Hytha at mhytha@bloomberg.net

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