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Judge orders Toyota to turn over documents to plaintiffs' lawyers

Ruling gives the automaker 30 days to provide thousands of pages of records to Toyota owners alleging sudden-acceleration problems.

May 28, 2010|By Stuart Pfeifer, Los Angeles Times

A federal judge Friday ordered Toyota Motor Corp. to turn over thousands of pages of records to lawyers who have sued the Japanese automaker because of alleged sudden-acceleration problems.

U.S. District Judge James V. Selna gave Toyota 30 days to turn over documents that it had previously supplied Congress and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. The judge rejected Toyota's request for additional time to supply the documents.

Steven W. Berman, one of the attorneys representing Toyota vehicle owners, said the documents would help him and other lawyers prepare a consolidated class-action lawsuit that would seek compensation for Toyota owners. The owners contend that the value of their cars has diminished because of the recalls of millions of Toyota models that had sudden-acceleration problems.

More than 200 federal lawsuits have been consolidated before the judge based in Santa Ana in an effort to streamline what is expected to be a time-consuming and complex legal battle.

Some of the lawsuits seek damages for diminished value of Toyota vehicles and others seek compensation for drivers who were injured or killed in crashes blamed on sudden acceleration. Toyota has declined to discuss the lawsuits, but maintains that recent recalls involving millions of vehicles have addressed all safety problems.

Attorneys for the plaintiffs said they were pleased that Selna ordered Toyota to produce the documents quickly.

"We want to push this case toward trial. To do that, we have to get our discovery done as soon as possible," said Newport Beach attorney Mark P. Robinson Jr., who is representing plaintiffs in wrongful death and personal injury lawsuits. "Sometimes these cases go three, four years before we go to trial. We don't want to do that."

Lawyers for the company said they would be happy to turn over the requested documents, but said they needed time to review them to make sure they did not contain privileged material. The process is further complicated because many of the records are in Japanese and would have to be translated, they said. All told, some 120,000 pages of documents could be involved, they said.

Toyota has recalled millions of vehicles worldwide to address problems with sudden acceleration, which has been blamed in more than 100 fatal traffic crashes. The company was fined a record $16.4 million last month for delays in notifying federal safety officials about defects that could lead to sudden acceleration.

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