DETROIT (Bloomberg) -- A federal judge overseeing lawsuits against Toyota Motor Corp. said in a tentative ruling that the automaker must face economic loss claims over unintended acceleration allegations.
Toyota owners claimed the company failed to disclose or fix defects related to sudden acceleration, driving down the value of their vehicles. U.S. District Judge James V. Selna in Santa Ana, Calif., said the claims could go forward because vehicle owners met court standards on pleading loss or injury.
"Taking these allegations as true, as the court must at the pleading stage, they establish an economic loss," Selna wrote in his tentative decision Thursday. "A vehicle with a defect is worth less than one without a defect."
Toyota recalled millions of U.S. vehicles, starting in 2009, after claims of defects and incidents involving sudden unintended acceleration. The recalls set off a wave of litigation, including hundreds of economic loss suits and claims by individuals or their families for injuries and deaths caused by such incidents.
Most of the federal lawsuits were combined before Selna, who is overseeing pre-trial evidence-gathering, or discovery. Selna issued a similar ruling in November rejecting Toyota's motion to dismiss an earlier complaint by the vehicle owners.
Thursday's tentative finding, which won't take effect unless it becomes final, follows an amended complaint by the plaintiffs and a subsequent renewed motion to dismiss. Selna is scheduled to conduct a hearing today on the company's request to dismiss the cases.
Celeste Migliore, a Toyota spokeswoman, didn't immediately return a call seeking comment after regular business hours. A judge's ruling on a motion to dismiss doesn't consider evidence or the merits of the plaintiffs' allegations, Migliore said after the decision in November.
"At this early stage, this analysis by the court requires a basic assumption that the plaintiffs' allegations are true, even though they are unproven," she said then.
Selna also said in the tentative ruling he wouldn't dismiss claims that Toyota violated consumer laws by not disclosing sudden acceleration problems to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration or to car buyers.
Toyota's series of recalls began in September 2009 with an announcement that 3.8 million vehicles were being recalled because of a defect that may cause floor mats to jam down the accelerator pedal. In January 2010, the company recalled 2.3 million vehicles to fix sticking gas pedals.
The carmaker said in February that it was recalling another 2.17 million vehicles in the U.S. for carpet and floor-mat flaws that could jam gas pedals.
Many of the lawsuits claim that loose floor mats and sticky pedals don't explain all episodes of sudden acceleration and that the electronic throttle system in Toyota vehicles is to blame. Toyota has disputed any flaws in its electronic throttle control system.