A Santa Ana-based federal judge has picked the bellwether case in the slew of freak-acceleration lawsuits lodged against Toyota. The trial, which will undoubtedly influence the litigation of the other cases, is set to start on Feb. 19, 2013, according to a timetable housed on the court's website.
U.S. District Judge James Selna chose to start with the Van Alfen v. Toyota Motor Sales, U.S.A., Inc. case. The case is rooted in a fatal 2010 crash in Utah, in which a Toyota Camry unexpectedly accelerated and rammed into a wall. Selna is managing the jumbo case because Toyota's U.S. headquarters are in Torrance, which is in his federal district.
In a tentative order, Selna writes:
The conduct of a trial in the first quarter of 2013 will markedly advance these proceedings. The Court believes that selection of a personal injury/wrongful death case (is) most the likely type of case to meet that goal. The Court designates Plaintiff's selection, Van Alfen v. Toyota Motor Sales, U.S.A., Inc. Case No. 2:11-cv-04143 JVS (FMOx) (C.D. Cal.), as the first trial.
Although Toyota surely isn't loving this process, they say they don't mind Selna's decision.
“We are pleased that the initial bellwether will address Plaintiffs' central allegation of an unnamed, unproven defect in Toyota vehicles, as every claim in the (multi-district litigation) rests upon this pivotal technical issue,” said Carly Schaffner, a Toyota spokeswoman, in an emailed response.
Another recent development in the case bodes well for Toyota.
Edmunds Inside Line reported that on June 8 Selna ruled that car owners from other states couldn't benefit from California's benevolent consumer-protection laws.
That could potentially save Toyota lots of cash, as Inside Line reports that Toyota told them “that approximately 70 percent of the economic-loss claims in the litigation were originally filed outside of California.”
The Weekly has covered the Toyotas-gone-whack issue since before the Van Alfen crash and a lot of the other complaints went national. An April 22, 2009 cover story by Paul Knight tells the stories of Prii gone awry (in February Toyota announced the official plural for Prius).