Toyota Settlement of Acceleration Cases Wins Approval

Toyota Motor Corp. won final approval of a settlement, valued at as much as $1.63 billion by plaintiff lawyers, with U.S. consumers who claimed that recalls related to sudden, unintended acceleration caused their vehicles to lose value.

U.S. District Judge James V. Selna, who gave the accord preliminary approval in December, signed off on it at a hearing yesterday in Santa Ana, California. The judge in June had delayed a decision until he received further documentation how the money would be distributed.

“I reaffirm my conclusion that this settlement is fair, adequate and reasonable,” Selna said during yesterday’s hearing. “I find this settlement to be extraordinary because every single dollar in the cash fund will go to claimants.”

The settlement resolves economic-loss allegations brought by Toyota drivers following the recall of more than 10 million vehicles worldwide in 2009 and 2010 for problems related to possible unintended acceleration, including sticky accelerator pedals and floor mats that could shift out of position.

Toyota, based in Toyota City, Japan, said in December it would take a one-time $1.1 billion charge to cover the costs of the settlement.

‘Maximum Amount’

“This settlement is focused on getting the maximum amount to our customers,” John P. Hooper, a lawyer for Toyota, said. The company was confident it would have won at trial and agreed to settle only because it was “trying to find a resolution that would be of value to Toyota customers and put this litigation behind us,” he said.

The settlement includes $757 million in cash, including $227 million in attorneys’ fees and costs, and $875 million in non-monetary benefits, including free installation of a brake-override system for eligible vehicles, according to the plaintiff lawyers’ April 23 request for final approval.

“Those people who submitted claims are getting 100 percent of their claims in this settlement,” said Steve Berman, an attorney for the plaintiffs. Individual payments will range from $9.74 to $10,000, depending on the Toyota model owned, rented or leased, he said.

The settlement doesn’t resolve personal-injury and wrongful-death lawsuits based on allegations Toyota’s vehicles caused accidents through unintended acceleration. A trial is scheduled in Los Angeles this month on claims by the widower and son of a 66-year-old woman whose Toyota Camry crashed against a tree in 2009.

The economic-loss 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).

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