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Lawyers vie for lead slots in Toyota suits

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Lawyers vie for lead slots in Toyota suits

More than 70 hope to win top positions on various committees that oversee litigation

Greg Risling / Associated Press

Santa Ana, Calif. -- Dozens of lawyers spoke glowingly about their courtroom credentials Thursday to persuade a federal judge to give them a lead position battling Toyota Motor Corp. in the hundreds of lawsuits surrounding its vehicles' sudden acceleration problems.

About 60 lawyers pinned their hopes with U.S. District Judge James Selna, who said he would make his decision by Monday. At stake is potentially millions of dollars that a judge can appropriate for attorneys if a settlement or award is reached.

More than 320 lawsuits have been filed in federal and state court against the Japanese automaker after it began recalling about 8 million vehicles because of acceleration problems in several models and brake glitches with the Prius hybrid.

A judicial panel last month consolidated the federal cases in Orange County, Calif., and chose Selna to preside over them.

While most of the plaintiffs' attorneys boasted of their experience handling major product liability cases, some shared with Selna their ability to speak fluent Japanese, and one attorney said he was a licensed engineer.

"Technical savvy is a measure of qualification for the leadership roles," said Selna.

Outside of court, several attorneys recommended by a three-member panel of plaintiffs' lawyers declined comment, but some attorneys during the hearing highlighted how important Selna's selections will be for the case.

"The leadership you appoint here is going to dominate the case," said one lawyer, Daniel Becnel of Louisiana.

Some of the hundreds of lawsuits in Selna's hands seek compensation for injury and death because of sudden acceleration, while others claim economic loss from owners who say the value of their Toyota vehicles plummeted after the recalls.

Toyota blamed faulty floor mats and sticky accelerator pedals for the unintended acceleration. Some plaintiffs also claim that there is a defect with Toyota's electronic throttle control system, but Toyota denies that.

Toyota's lead lawyer, Cari Dawson of Atlanta, suggested that some cases may be more quickly resolved if they are grouped by those involving vehicles that have been subjected to recall and those that have not.

Some attorneys anticipate at least a $3 billion payout if Toyota decides to settle the cases.

Selna was asked Thursday to create a separate class of plaintiffs from foreign countries including Mexico and Germany and from the Middle East. The class would cover as many as 4 million people and is needed because courts in these countries don't provide the same legal remedies as the U.S. justice system, said attorney Monica R. Kelly, of Ribbeck Law in Chicago. Selna didn't rule on that request.

From The Detroit News: http://detnews.com/article/20100514/AUTO01/5140353/1148/auto01/Lawyers-vie-for-lead-slots-in-Toyota-suits#ixzz0nwBCnF37

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