SAN DIEGO (Bloomberg) -- A federal judge in California tentatively rejected Toyota Motor Corp.'s bid to dismiss lawsuits claiming deaths and personal injuries caused by unintended sudden acceleration of its vehicles.
Lawyers for injured customers and families of those killed in accidents provided sufficient evidence to allow their cases to go forward, said U.S. District Judge James V. Selna in Santa Ana, California, in a tentative ruling Wednesday. Selna earlier denied Toyota's motion to dismiss class-action, or group suits claiming economic losses related to sudden acceleration.
The automaker is accused in the lawsuits of failing to disclose or warn of a defect in its vehicles that could cause sudden acceleration. Toyota said in court filings that the plaintiffs didn't offer specific allegations of an actual defect and that the company didn't conceal anything.
“Toyota demands a level of specificity that is not required at the pleadings stage,” Selna wrote in his tentative order. “The defect is identified: plaintiffs' cars suddenly and unexpectedly accelerate and do not stop upon proper application of the brake pedal.”
Selna said he wouldn't dismiss fraud allegations against Toyota related to sudden unintended acceleration, or SUA. “Rather than disclosing the SUA defects to consumers, Toyota often blamed consumers for SUA-related problems,” he wrote.
10 million vehicles
The company has recalled more than 10 million vehicles globally for repairs related to unintended acceleration, according to Automotive News research.
In September 2009, the automaker announced a recall of 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.
“Judge Selna's ruling is tentative and we will be in court tomorrow morning to discuss” it, Celeste Migliore, a Toyota spokeswoman, said in an e-mail. “It would be inappropriate to comment on a tentative ruling. We may have a comment after the hearing tomorrow and when the final ruling is filed,” she said.
Toyota faces about 400 lawsuits alleging lost vehicle value or injury or death from sudden acceleration.
Selna is scheduled to hear oral arguments tomorrow about his tentative ruling. Federal lawsuits claiming death or injury caused by episodes of sudden acceleration are combined in his court.
“If the judge finalizes this important tentative ruling, the plaintiffs' ship is sailing at full speed with a prevailing wind,” Mark Robinson, one of the lead lawyers in the personal injury and death cases, said in a phone interview.
The judge is rejecting almost all of Toyota's arguments, except for a few minor claims by the plaintiffs that can be refiled at a later date, Robinson said.