Top Counsel Named in Toyota Lawsuits

May 17, 2010

A U.S. federal judge Friday picked two class-action veterans to lead the consolidated lawsuit against Toyota Motor Corp. over cars that plaintiffs say raced out of control.

U.S. District Judge James Selna, presiding over the first court hearing in the consolidated federal cases against Toyota, selected Steve Berman, of the Seattle-based firm Hagens Berman, and Elizabeth Cabraser, a founding partner of Lieff Cabraser Heimann & Bernstein in San Francisco.

Berman, who represented plaintiffs in the Exxon Valdez oil spill and recently settled a $200 million case against Charles Schwab Corp. for allegedly deceiving investors, will head up the class actions related to economic loss.

Cabraser, who also worked on the oil spill case against Exxon and has won settlements from Ford Motor Corp., will lead the wrongful death and personal injury cases.

Attorneys from more than 70 law firms applied to be appointed top counsel.

Some lawyers have estimated the Japanese automaker faces potential civil liability of more than $10 billion as it struggles with a safety crisis that has tarnished its image.

Complaints of runaway automobiles and other safety issues have led to the recall of more than 8.5 million Toyota vehicles worldwide, most for repairs of ill-fitting floor mats and sticking gas pedals the automaker blames for surging engines.

Berman has been a proponent of seeking compensation for owners of recalled vehicles in the form of straight refunds, rather than damages covering the cost of lost resale value.

Many of the lawsuits suggest the runaway acceleration problem is rooted in an as-yet unidentified electronic glitch, which Toyota has vehemently denied.

The case is: In re: Toyota Motor Corp. Unintended Acceleration Marketing, Sales Practices, and Product Liability Litigation, U.S. District Court, Central District of California, No. 10-ml-02151.

(Additional reporting by Steve Gorman; Editing by Dan Whitcomb and Richard Chang)

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