Court Rejects Toyota's Bid to Have Acceleration Lawsuits Thrown Out

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Following a ruling in their favor, plaintiffs alleging that Toyota Motor (TM) sought to conceal defects related to unintended acceleration in the automaker's vehicles are one step closer to having their cases heard in court.

In a tentative ruling Wednesday, U.S. District Court Judge James V. Selna said that plaintiffs should be permitted to go ahead with their lawsuit, saying their allegations were sufficient to allow the proceeding to move forward.

"Toyota demands a level of specificity that is not required at the pleadings stage," Selna wrote in his tentative order, Bloomberg News reported. "The defect is identified: plaintiffs' cars suddenly and unexpectedly accelerate and do not stop upon proper application of the brake pedal."

Automaker Denies Concealing Defects

The world's largest automaker had sought to have the cases thrown out, arguing that those alleging Toyota failed to disclose the defects didn't identify a specific problem. Further, Toyota also denied concealing anything.

Selna last month denied a motion by Toyota to dismiss class-action lawsuits that claimed economic losses related to unintended acceleration.

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The automaker has recalled some 8 million cars to repair sticky gas pedals or fix bulky rubber floor mats that it says are the sources of the problem. Plaintiffs, however, argue that electronics are the cause of the problem, and Toyota has sought to cover-up the defect.

In his tentative ruling, Selna said he wouldn't dismiss allegations against Toyota for problems related to sudden unintended acceleration (SUA). "Rather than disclosing the SUA defects to consumers, Toyota often blamed consumers for SUA-related problems," he wrote, Bloomberg noted.

The judge is scheduled hear arguments Thursday regarding his tentative order and may issue a final ruling.

"The Wind at Their Backs"


Through a spokeswoman, Toyota declined to comment on the tentative ruling except to say the company would be present in court to argue its case. An attorney for the plaintiffs, Mark Robinson, told Bloomberg should the court finalize the tentative ruling, plaintiffs would have the wind at their backs in pursuing their claims.

Toyota's massive recalls related to SUA have taken a toll on the company's carefully crafted image for safety and quality, and have also hurt sales. Following a disastrous industry sales year in 2009 caused by the recession, most automakers so far this year have reported year-over-year sales increases in recent months as the economy continues to brighten.

But Toyota has been the sole laggard among major suppliers to the U.S. market. Its November sales, for example, fell 7.3% compared to the same month a year ago, while its rivals, General Motors (GM), Ford Motor (F) and Honda Motor (HMC), all reported double-digit percentage increases for the month.

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