LOS ANGELES -- A federal judicial panel on Thursday will begin considering whether more than 80 lawsuits against Toyota Motor Corp. can be consolidated into fewer cases and, if so, which courts should handle the litigation.
At least a dozen attorneys from across the country are expected to argue before the judicial panel in San Diego regarding the lawsuits, many of them stemming from incidents related to unintended acceleration.
Toyota has recalled about 8.5 million vehicles worldwide since last fall. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration said consumers have reported 52 deaths from unintended acceleration in Toyota vehicles in this country.
Richard Arsenault one of the attorneys who will speak before the panel, said the legal complaints range from deaths from the unintended acceleration to consumers fearing their vehicles have lost value since the recalls.
No stranger to big litigation, Arsenault has represented plaintiffs in breast implant suits and the recall of the arthritic drug Vioxx. He also is co-chair of a Toyota litigation symposium being held today in San Diego.
Regarding Toyota, he said: “This is unquestionably a complex case, but the panel has heard a lot of complex cases.”
Arsenault's firm, in Alexandria, La., has filed claims in Louisiana, New York, California, Missouri and Arkansas.
They range from non-Toyota new-car dealers who sell used Toyotas and claim the value of the cars has diminished to individuals making the same claim.
He will argue that the cases should either be held in the eastern district of Kentucky, home to Toyota's manufacturing headquarters, which is a defendant in many of the actions, or the eastern district of Louisiana or Los Angeles.
Los Angeles is where most of the cases have been filed, Arsenault said, and all three districts are known for disposing of cases speedily and efficiently.
“Toyota also gets to speak,” he said. “They want the case to be heard in California's central district (Los Angeles).”
Toyota declined to comment on the panel hearing.
“Toyota doesn't comment on pending or speculate on future litigation,” spokeswoman Celeste Migliore said in an e-mail today.
Arsenault said the panel will weigh several factors in determining jurisdiction -- the number of cases pending in the district, convenience to the parties and the experience of the jurist in class actions and complex litigation.
“In this case, however, I suspect that the experience of the jurist will be the critical consideration,” he said.
Arsenault expects Thursday's arguments will be concluded within an hour and that there will be an answer in a few weeks. He said about 15 jurisdictions are in play.
He said the location of the symposium and the hearing have nothing to do with the high profile case of a California state patrol office and his family who were killed near San Diego last August when their Lexus sped out of control. He said the judicial panel meets monthly in a different locale, and San Diego is where they are “coincidentally” meeting now.
The daylong symposium will cover topics ranging from the mechanical and electronic debate regarding Toyota's unintended acceleration problems to black box software to how the Toyota suits will be litigated.
Toyota maintains that electronics are not to blame for its acceleration problems. It says the fixes it has in place are adequate to solve the problems.