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Toyota lawsuits will be heard in Calif.

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Toyota lawsuits will be heard in Calif.

David Shepardson / Detroit News Washington Bureau

Washington -- More than 100 federal lawsuits filed against Toyota Motor Corp. in connection with its recall of 6 million vehicles in the United States over sudden acceleration concerns will be heard in Los Angeles.

The U.S. Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation ruled Friday that the cases will be consolidated and heard in California by U.S. District Judge James V. Selna, a 2003 appointee by former President George W. Bush.

Separately, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration told Toyota in a letter released Friday that it could face a separate fine in a second recall case. NHTSA proposed on Monday imposing a $16.4 million civil penalty in the company's handling of a recall of 2.3 million vehicles over sticky accelerator pedals. The company has until April 19 to decide whether to appeal.

The move often helps settle many cases before trial. Some legal experts have suggested Toyota could face $3 billion or more in civil damages.

The largest group of suits seeks compensation for deaths and injuries over product liability complaints, while another suit wants to force Toyota to broaden its recalls.

Toyota spokeswoman Martha Voss said the company was "pleased with the decision and the location."

Another California suit wants a federal judge to impose a preliminary injunction that would require Toyota to expand its recall of vehicles to include all model years of 16 models that have claims of sudden acceleration and have not been subject to recalls. The request seeks to force Toyota to include the installation of a fail-safe "brake override" mechanism for all models and model years.

Other lawsuits want the automaker to refund owners what they paid for vehicles -- or compensate them for the loss in value, while Toyota shareholders have also filed suit over the decline in the company's value because of the recalls.

By consolidating the cases for pre-trial work, it will "eliminate duplicative discovery; prevent inconsistent pretrial rulings, including with respect to class certification; and conserve the resources of the parties, their counsel, and the judiciary," the panel said in a five-page order signed by its chairman, Judge John G. Heyburn II of Kentucky.

The panel debated allowing suits alleging deaths and injuries to proceed on separate tracks.

"We are initially persuaded that the centralized proceedings should eventually include the related personal injury and wrongful death actions," the panel wrote.

The panel said California makes the most sense, in part because "Toyota maintains its United States corporate headquarters within this district, and relevant documents and witnesses are likely located there. Far more actions are pending there than in any other district."

Despite the publicity, the panel said the cases weren't any different than others.

"Though these cases have attracted an unusual amount of publicity to the panel's work, in all relevant aspects, the issues here are neither dramatically different nor more complex than those we regularly resolve," the panel said.

From The Detroit News: http://detnews.com/article/20100409/AUTO01/4090420/1148/Toyota-lawsuits-will-be-heard-in-Calif.#ixzz0keDis9q6

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