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Toyota Faces at Least 30 Lawsuits Over Acceleration

Feb. 5 Toyota Motor Corp., the world’s largest automaker, faces at least 30 lawsuits filed on behalf of customers in the U.S. and Canada seeking a range of damages from loss of cars’ value to a return of profits.

The class-action suits, in U.S. state and federal courts and Canadian provinces, demand compensation for flaws including those disclosed in Toyota’s recalls over sudden acceleration of its vehicles. More than half the cases go beyond the floor mats and pedals cited by the company.

Suits include Texas and South Carolina cases limited to customers in those states, and California complaints aimed at bringing in all Toyota owners in the U.S. Eventually the U.S. suits will be combined before one federal judge for pretrial evidence-gathering and rulings, said Michael Louis Kelly, a lawyer who filed two proposed national cases in California.

“Either Toyota will ask for it or we will,” Kelly said yesterday in an interview. Combining the lawsuits in a multidistrict litigation would “streamline pretrial matters” for both sides, he said.

Mike Michels, a Toyota spokesman, declined to comment for this story. Ririko Takeuchi, a Toyota spokeswoman in Tokyo, said she is not aware of any lawsuits against the company in Japan citing defects in its cars when contacted by phone today.

Growing Cases

The number of cases has grown daily in the past week. The company also faces at least 10 lawsuits brought by individuals claiming deaths or injuries caused by uncontrollable acceleration of vehicles.

The cases probably will be combined in a federal court in Los Angeles near Toyota’s U.S. sales headquarters in Torrance, California, Kelly said. At least nine class actions are in that state, including one filed yesterday in Los Angeles.

Toyota shares rose 1.1 percent to close at 3,315 yen in Tokyo.

The suits were spurred by multiple recalls by Toyota and its Jan. 26 decision to stop U.S. production and sales of eight models to fix defective accelerator pedals. Almost 8 million Toyota vehicles have been recalled worldwide.

Many of those suing the company are seeking damages for buyers of Toyota models that aren’t part of the recall. The South Carolina suit was filed on behalf of purchasers of any Toyota vehicle containing the electronic throttle control system known as the ETCS-i, dating to 1998.

‘Restitution, Disgorgement’

Plaintiffs are asking for “restitution and disgorgement” of profits and punitive damages, as well as reimbursements for any costs incurred by Toyota owners.

At least 10 other U.S. class actions allege a defect in the electronic control system, contending that replacing floor mats and accelerator pedals isn’t treating the root of the defect.

If plaintiffs’ lawyers can prove this allegation, it will be expensive for Toyota, said Kelly, of the law firm Kirtland & Packard LLP in El Segundo, California.

“If there’s a problem other than the carpet or the pedal, you have to be talking billions of dollars,” he said.

The South Carolina case is Wooten v. Toyota Motor North America Inc., 3:10-cv-00229, U.S. District Court, District of South Carolina (Columbia). The California cases include Hauter v. Toyota Motor Sales USA Inc., 10-cv-105, U.S. District Court, Central District of California (Santa Ana).

LINK: Toyota Faces at Least 30 Lawsuits Over Acceleration (Update2) -
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