Judge Refuses to Toss Toyota Unintended Acceleration Lawsuits

Toyota Motor (TM) is asking a federal court in California to dismiss lawsuits brought against the company claiming that electronics -- not floor mats or sticky gas pedals -- are the cause of unintended acceleration in Toyota vehicles.

U.S. District Judge James Selna is to hear arguments presented by the Japanese automaker asking the court to throw out the lawsuits because plaintiffs have been unable to prove a defect in the design of the vehicles' electronic throttle control system.

Update: Selna tentatively ruled Friday that he will reject most of Toyota's challenge to the class-action lawsuits filed by Toyota owners over sudden acceleration, Bloomberg News reported.

Car owners' lawyers provided sufficient evidence to allow their cases to go forward, Selna said in a tentative ruling posted on his court's website.

"It is true that plaintiffs do not generally allege the precise dollar value of their losses, but that level of specificity is not required at this pleading stage," the judge wrote in his 63-page ruling. "It is enough that they allege a tangible loss that can be proved or disproved upon discovery."

Selna said he will issue a final ruling by Nov. 25, the U.S. Thanksgiving holiday.

(Earlier story continues below):

"Unless and until plaintiffs can provide factual allegations of a specific defect in the [throttle control system] that caused the subject vehicle to experience a sudden unintended acceleration event, plaintiffs' product liability and negligence claims should be dismissed," said Toyota attorney Vincent Galvin in documents filed with the court.

The numerous lawsuits, which have been consolidated and assigned to Selna, seek compensation for injuries and deaths due to sudden acceleration. Other plaintiffs want the automaker to compensate them for the reduced value of their cars and trucks that resulted from the recall of millions of Toyota vehicles worldwide to fix the defects.

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The plaintiffs contend that the automaker failed to report incidents of unintended acceleration experienced by employees of Toyota dealerships. They also allege that the company bought back vehicles from owners who complained of sudden acceleration in exchange for confidentiality agreements barring them from discussing the matter.

The lawsuits, along with hundreds of others, were filed in the wake of Toyota's recall of about 8 million Toyota and Lexus vehicles in the U.S. to make repairs to prevent unintended acceleration incidents. The ongoing action involves two separate recall campaigns: one to repair sticking accelerators, and another to shave down gas pedals to prevent them from getting hung up on heavy rubber floor mats.

The recalls were the subject of congressional hearings earlier this year, and led to a record $16.4 million fine related to the sticky pedal recall. Toyota has repeatedly denied that there is any other source of the problem, although the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has commissioned studies to see if electronic interference may be causing some of the malfunctions.

The recalls and subsequent bad publicity have taken a toll on Toyota's once dent-proof image for quality and safety, and the company's sales have been hurt, too. For the first time in decade, Toyota has lost market share in the U.S., and rival Ford Motor (F) has outsold Toyota nearly every month this year.

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