Plaintiffs’ lawyers are awaiting a decision on which federal court will handle the bulk of the Toyota Motor Corp. sudden unintended acceleration litigation.
Nearly 200 lawsuits have been filed so far in federal and state courts throughout the country. The litigation involves both individual personal injury suits and consumer class actions filed on behalf of Toyota owners who claim that the value of their vehicles has been battered by concerns about sudden unintended acceleration.
On March 25, the Joint Panel on Multi-District Litigation heard one-minute pitches from about two dozen lawyers seeking to consolidate consumer and personal injury suits in their jurisdictions.
W. Daniel Miles, head of the consumer fraud section at Beasley Allen in Montgomery, Ala., said he deferred his time to an attorney who spoke on behalf of several states.
But Miles said that the lawyers’ presentations will have little impact on the panel’s decision.
“The panel will do what it wants, and the presentations were of no real merit,” he asserted.
Miles said the front-runner appears to be the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California. The U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana is a “clear second,” he added, with the federal court in Minnesota as a wild card venue.
“Wherever it lands will then determine who will be in leadership to steer the litigation,” Miles said.
Beasley Allen has filed a total of five consumer class actions so far in four states – Alabama, California, Florida and Georgia – as well as one wrongful death case in state court in Alabama.
Stephen J. Herman, a partner at Herman, Herman, Katz & Cotlar in New Orleans, was not at the MDL hearing, but said he has heard rumors that the Toyota MDL may land in New Orleans.
“If so, and we are asked to serve on the [plaintiffs’ steering] committee, we likely will,” he said.
J. David Prince, a professor at William Mitchell College of Law in St. Paul, Minn., said that lawyers want a leadership role because it puts them in a better position to determine case strategy.
“Secondarily – and I really do think it’s a secondary consideration – it means they’ll get a bigger share of the fees,” he said.
As far as which court is designated the MDL court, Prince said lawyers care about it for the same reason they always care about choice of venue: “Different judges have different attitudes and approaches to various issues.”
For example, a court that is reluctant to grant summary judgment motions might be preferred by plaintiffs, while one that is more inclined to grant Daubert challenges might be preferred by defendants, he explained.
“The choice of MDL court can mean a lot in determining how many cases will eventually move forward to trial or settlement,” Prince said.
Steve W. Berman, a partner at Hagens, Berman, Sobol, Shapiro in Seattle, wrote in an e-mail that he predicted the MDL will include both consumer class actions and personal injury lawsuits, and that it will be “all in one place” – the Central District of California.
Last week, Berman’s firm filed class actions in five states – Arizona, Colorado, Florida, Maryland and Washington – demanding refunds for Toyota owners.
Toyota, with its U.S. headquarters based in Torrance, Calif., has requested that the MDL be located in the Central District of California.
The Japanese automaker has recalled more than 8 million vehicles for repairs related to sudden, unintended acceleration.
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