MONTGOMERY, Ala. (December 18, 2013) – Lawyers from Montgomery, Ala., based law firm, Beasley, Allen, Crow, Methvin, Portis & Miles, P.C., are heavily involved in the litigation against Toyota Motor Corp. for claims involving Sudden Unintended Acceleration in the car maker’s vehicles. Beasley Allen lawyers are involved in both the “Economic Loss / Consumer Fraud” litigation, as well as the “Personal injury / Wrongful death product liability” claims against the Japanese manufacturer. Toyota recalled more than 8 million vehicles worldwide in 2009 and 2010 after reports that sudden unintended acceleration incidents caused crashes with resulting serious injury and death.
Last December, Toyota Motor Corporation announced a $1.1 billion class settlement of the sudden unintended acceleration economic loss class action cases, known as the “EL Cases.” Dee Miles from Beasley Allen was in on the ground floor of that effort to explore the settlement possibilities concerning the EL class cases.
Miles involved the leadership of the Toyota MDL, which had been appointed by Judge James V. Selna in 2010. Steve Berman, Marc Seltzer, Frank M. Pitre, Elizabeth J. Cabraser and Mark P. Robinson, Jr., all appointed to the PSC by Judge Selna, were on that team. Several meetings with Toyota’s lawyers led to one of this nation’s largest automotive consumer settlements ever reached.
Although the economic class cases were settled, the roughly 450 individual personal injury and wrongful death product liability cases remained unresolved. Toyota’s approach had been not to settle those cases and to make the lawyers handling the cases go to trial. Toyota wanted to see how jurors would respond when the cases went to trial.
Fast forward to October 2013, when Beasley Allen’s Jere Beasley, Cole Portis, Graham Esdale and Ben Baker arrived in Oklahoma City, Okla., along with Larry Tawwater of the Tawwater Law Firm in Oklahoma City and Paul Martin from Ponca City, Okla., to represent Jean Bookout and the family of Barbara Schwarz in a lawsuit. The Plaintiffs in that case accused Toyota of manufacturing automobiles with defective Electronic Throttle Control Systems. It was claimed that this defect had caused the death of Barbara Schwarz and serious lifetime injuries to Jean Bookout.
The Oklahoma jury agreed with the Plaintiffs’ allegations and returned a multi-million dollar compensatory award against Toyota Motor Corporation, finding the company guilty of “reckless indifference to human life.” The case was then to proceed to the punitive damages phase the next day. But before the jury could even hear the punitive damage evidence against Toyota Motor Corporation, the Plaintiffs’ lawyers were contacted by Toyota and the parties reached a confidential settlement on the punitive damages aspect and the case was resolved in its entirety.
The Bookout/Schwarz jury verdict in Oklahoma was a landmark and monumental verdict in the Toyota Sudden Unintended Acceleration Litigation. The Beasley Allen lawyers were able to obtain for their clients the first and only jury verdict where Toyota’s throttle system in their vehicles was the sole issue and the jury found it to be defective. In fact, the jurors found that Toyota had been guilty of “reckless conduct” that put customers at risk.
Not long after the Bookout/Schwarz verdict, Dee Miles, Elizabeth Cabraser and Todd Walburg of the Lieff Cabraser law firm, representing the Plaintiffs, began negotiations with Toyota’s settlement team concerning the possibility of a global settlement that would resolve all of the personal injury and wrongful death product liability cases. The goal was to build a settlement structure that would resolve all the Toyota sudden acceleration cases. The settlement structure has now been approved by Judge Selna in the federal MDL (Multidistrict Litigation) and by Judge Lee Smalley Edmon in the California JCCP (Judicial Counsel Coordination Proceedings, California’s State version of Multidistrict Litigation). Both judges have entered orders requiring the settlement process to begin.
So after nearly three months of negotiations, both the federal court and the state court of California have approved the negotiated settlement structure. It has now been mandated by the Courts as a process that must be followed before any case can go to trial (see Orders attached hereto). The initial response to the settlement process has been very good, both by the Plaintiffs’ lawyers in the federal MDL and in the California JCCP, and by Toyota.
While the settlement process will take time, each individual Plaintiff will have an opportunity to have his or her case “front and center” for an unbiased evaluation, with a full consideration of all facts and settlement factors, and with an opportunity for a satisfactory settlement.
Beasley Allen lawyers have been on the forefront of the Toyota litigation from the inception. The following is a brief timeline of the firm’s involvement:
• Several national class actions were filed against Toyota for SUA;
• Dee Miles received a leadership appointment in the federal MDL by Judge Selna, is appointed to the Liaison Counsel Committee;
• Time and money were invested in developing the critical evidence against Toyota that would be used in all cases tried throughout the nation;
• Individual wrongful death and product liability cases were filed by the firm against Toyota in various states;
• The firm played a key role in the negotiation of the $1.1 billion settlement with Toyota for the EL class action cases;
• Beasley Allen tried the first and only case against Toyota involving the defective Toyota throttle system in Toyota vehicles, with a multi-million dollar jury verdict in Oklahoma City being returned by the jury;
• One of the first settlements in an individual case was achieved before punitive damages were to be awarded against Toyota Motor Corporation;
• Dee Miles served as one of the key architects for the final phase of the litigation, including the potential settlement of some 450 personal injury / wrongful death product liability cases as a result of the settlement structure approved by the judges in both the federal MDL Court in California, as well as in the state MDL Court in California;
• The Oklahoma jury verdict was the single factor that caused Toyota to change its litigation strategy and decide to reach a global settlement of all cases.
Beasley Allen is serving the public and the legal community in rectifying wrongs in our society.
Beasley Allen Founding Shareholder Jere Beasley recently talked about the landmark Oklahoma City verdict on the Beasley Allen Report. Watch the episode below: