Toyota Loses Bid to Get Acceleration Suit Thrown Out

By Margaret Cronin Fisk and Bill Callahan | October 1, 2013

Toyota Motor Corp. tentatively lost a bid to get a court to throw out a lawsuit claiming one of its cars suddenly accelerated and caused an accident that left a woman severely injured.

U.S. District Judge James V. Selna in Santa Ana, California, yesterday issued a tentative ruling denying Toyota’s request for a summary judgment in the lawsuit brought by the estate of Ida St. John, finding sufficient evidence for the case to go forward. The ruling, if made final, would mean St. John’s case will begin trial Nov. 5, the first of the federal claims consolidated before Selna to reach a jury.

St. John, then 83, was injured when her 2005 Toyota Camry crashed in April 2009 in Columbus, Georgia. She died after the accident and her grandson is pursuing the lawsuit. He doesn’t claim the accident caused the death.

“A jury could believe Mrs. St. John’s account of her actions, and believing that testimony, could reasonably conclude the existence of a design defect in the Camry,” Selna said. “The record reveals that Toyota received tens of thousands of complaints regarding uncommanded acceleration and/or engine surging in Camrys.”

Selna is holding a hearing today on Toyota’s motion, after which he may revise or make final the tentative ruling. He also issued a tentative ruling yesterday establishing limitations on testimony from expert witnesses for the plaintiff at trial.

Carly Schaffner, a Toyota spokeswoman, said in an e-mail that the company doesn’t comment on tentative rulings.

10 Million Vehicles

The carmaker, based in Toyota City, Japan, recalled more than 10 million vehicles for problems related to unintended acceleration in 2009 and 2010, starting with a September 2009 announcement that it was recalling 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.

The recalls set off a flurry of lawsuits claiming defects harmed the value of Toyota vehicles or caused accidents leading to death and injury. The federal suits were consolidated before Selna. Toyota settled the suits claiming economic loss for about $1.6 billion.

The federal cases are combined as In re Toyota Motor Corp. Unintended Acceleration Marketing, Sales Practices and Products Liability Litigation, 8:10-ml-02151, U.S. District Court, Central District of California (Santa Ana).

(Editors: Andrew Dunn, Peter Blumberg)

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