Toyota's Cases Consolidated for Pretrial Litigation: What Does This Mean?

The U.S. Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation has determined that nearly 200 lawsuits that have been filed in federal court against Toyota over unintended acceleration and recall issues should be consolidated for pretrial litigation. The lawsuits have been filed by people who have been injured in accidents involving unintended acceleration, family members of those who have been killed in such accidents, and individuals who are concerned with the devaluation of their vehicles due to the recent recalls. U.S. District Judge James V. Selna will preside over the consolidated pretrial litigation process.

The panel will usually only allow for consolidated lawsuits if the central facts in each case are the same. In the Toyota cases, plaintiffs alleging injury or wrongful death from unintended acceleration-related accidents as well as plaintiffs who are concerned about devaluation of their vehicles due to the recall are all connected by Toyota's recent treatment of the defective pedals, floor mats and (allegedly) the electrical systems in its vehicles.

The Benefits of Consolidation

The lawsuits that Toyota will defend itself against are similar enough that joining the various complaints into one for the purposes of pretrial litigation makes the most practical sense. Consolidation will ultimately save both Toyota and the individual plaintiffs time and money because all the documents, witnesses, etc., that are necessary to complete the pretrial litigation process will be located in a central place.

The Southern California courtroom where the pretrial process will take place is only located about 30 miles from Toyota's U.S. headquarters in Torrance, California. This location is ideal as most of the necessary documentation is likely housed in Southern California. In addition, consolidation will promote efficiency, convenience for attorneys and witnesses who will be allowed to testify in one place rather than in dozens, and similar treatment for similar plaintiffs. The consolidation process will also be less costly as attorneys will limit travel expenses and will only have to produce documents and depose witnesses once.

Finally, the consolidated process will promote consistency within the process. As one judge will preside over the entire process, there is no risk that Toyota and the plaintiffs will be subject to inconsistent pretrial rulings, including whether each plaintiff may be considered part of a given "class" for the purpose of various class action claims that have been filed. In addition, because the plaintiffs' lawyers are organizing as a group and will be handling the areas of the process that fall within their expertise, Toyota will not be able to exploit the lesser experienced among them. Had each of the claims filed against Toyota been argued in separate courts, the process would have been undoubtedly inconsistent and arguably unjust as a result of a fractured process.

Consolidation Only Ensured for Pretrial Litigation

The complaints before Judge Selna have been consolidated for pretrial litigation. This means that all the pretrial motions, discovery requests, depositions, etc., that must be conducted prior to trial will be done in a single process. This foundation will then serve as the reference point by which each complaint will ultimately be deemed appropriate for trial or not.

Though the Toyota pretrial litigation process will be consolidated, this does not mean that the trials that will follow this process will be similarly consolidated. Though the vehicle devaluation claims cases may be consolidated for trial and the personal injury and wrongful death claims may be consolidated for trial, all the claims before Judge Selna will almost certainly not be consolidated for trial. However, Judge Selna may order a consolidated trial of all the issues that are similar to both kinds of claims, such as the issue of whether Toyota purposefully withheld knowledge of the vehicles' defects.

Regardless of how Judge Selna decides to proceed, both the consolidated pretrial litigation process and the trials that will follow are sure to take an extraordinary amount of time, money, work and media attention in the coming months and years.

For Further Reference

All future related claims filed in federal court will be consolidated with the cases before Judge Selna. If you have been injured in an accident involving a vehicle manufactured by Toyota and are considering filing a complaint, please contact an experienced personal injury attorney.