Proposed settlement in class action suit against Toyota

TORONTO – A notification program has begun to advise Canadians of a proposed settlement in several class actions launched over allegations of unintended acceleration problems in certain Toyota vehicles, lawyers representing plaintiffs in the case said Friday.

The settlement offer, which requires court approval, relates to claims that some Toyota owners suffered economic loss arising from Toyota and Lexus vehicles equipped with an electronic throttle control system.

It does not involve claims for personal injury or property damage, according to a news release issued by Rochon Genova LLP, one of the law firms involved in the legal actions.

The classes will include anyone living in Canada who currently, or at any time on or before the date of approval of the proposed settlement by the courts, owned or leased a Toyota or Lexus vehicle equipped with ETCS which was sold or leased in Canada.

News of movement in the Canadian cases came a day after Toyota disclosed it was entering settlement talks on nearly 400 state and federal lawsuits in the United States that allege sudden unintended acceleration problems with its vehicles led to deaths and injuries.

Joint motions filed late Thursday in U.S. District Court in Santa Ana and Los Angeles County Superior Court indicated both sides would begin an “intensive settlement process” next month.

The Japanese automaker, which has recalled millions of cars since 2009 over the acceleration issue, agreed to the negotiations to make resolving the cases more efficient, spokeswoman Carly Schaffner told The Associated Press on Friday.

“We continue to stand behind the safety and quality of our vehicles,” she said.

In Canada, the proposed settlement provides for free installation of a brake override system on certain vehicles, a cash payment of $62.50 for each subject vehicle not otherwise eligible under the settlement to receive such a system and a customer support program to correct any defects in materials or workmanship of certain vehicle parts related to ETCS.

It also provides for scholarships totalling $600,000.

As in the U.S., the proposed Canadian settlement is not an admission of liability on the part of Toyota, which has denied the allegations in the lawsuits.

Nor has there been any finding of liability by the courts against them, lawyers said.

Class members who wish to submit a written objection to the proposed settlement must do so to the claims administrator by Jan. 24.

Those who wish to opt out of the proposed settlement, if approved, must do so by filing an opt-out form by the opt out deadline, which will be 45 days following court approval of the proposed settlement.

The law firms of Rochon Genova LLP, Kim Orr Barristers PC and Merchant Law Group LLP represent the Ontario national classes, while the firm of Merchant Law Group LLP represents the Saskatchewan and Nova Scotia classes and the law firms of Consumer Law Group LLP represents the Quebec Classes.

The settlement negotiations come less than two months after an Oklahoma jury awarded a total of $3 million in damages to the injured driver of a 2005 Camry and to the family of a passenger who was killed.

The ruling was significant because Toyota had won all previous unintended acceleration cases that went to trial in the U.S. It was also the first case where attorneys for plaintiffs argued that the car’s electronics — in this case the software connected to the Camry’s electronic throttle-control system — were the cause of the unintended acceleration.

At the time, legal experts said the Oklahoma verdict might cause Toyota to consider a broad settlement of the remaining cases. Until then, Toyota had been riding momentum from several trials where juries found it was not liable.