Class actions against Toyota over gas pedals filed in New Orleans

Michelle Massey, East Texas Bureau Feb. 3, 2010, 2:54pm

NEW ORLEANS -- In response to a nationwide recall of approximately 5.3 million Toyota vehicles for defective accelerator pedals, plaintiff's attorneys have filed three lawsuits in New Orleans asking Toyota to return profits it made from the sale of the vehicles.

The lawsuits state that the accelerator mechanism of the vehicles can become stuck in a depressed position and fail to return or return slowly to the idle position causing, "extreme, uncontrollable and inherently dangerous acceleration."

The Toyota models affected by the January recall include the 2009-2010 RAV4, 2009-2010 Corolla, 2009-2010 Matrix, 2009-2010 Pontiac Vibe, 2010 Highlander, 2007-2010 Tundra, 2008-2010 Sequoia and the 2007-2010 Camry.

Plaintiff's attorneys are asking federal judges to prevent Toyota from using unapproved methods to fix the recalled vehicles, arguing Toyota may do more harm than good.

Individually and on behalf of others similar situated nationwide, Daniel Weimer Jr., Colby Wenck and Ann Cavalier filed a class action against Toyota Motor North America Inc., Toyota Motor Engineering and Manufacturing North America Inc., and Toyota Motor Sales U.S.A. Inc. on Jan. 29 in the Eastern District of Louisiana.

The lawsuit wants to bring a nationwide class action on behalf of all owners of Toyota vehicles which were subject to various recalls in January.

The Weimer class action is proposing at least two sub-classes within the plaintiff class: Toyota purchase refund Louisiana class, which includes all Louisiana residents who purchased a subject Toyota, and Toyota personal injury Louisiana class, which includes all Louisiana residents who suffered an injury due to a subject Toyota.

This past September, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration announced Toyota's intention to recall approximately 4.3 million vehicles' floor mats for allegedly causing the accelerator pedals to become stuck in the depressed position. On Jan. 21, Toyota initiated a recall involving 2.3 million vehicles due to defective accelerator pedals.

According to the lawsuit, Toyota has recalled a total of approximately 5.3 million vehicles due to problems with the accelerator pedals.

The plaintiffs allege that Toyota knowingly schemed to market and represent the vehicles as safe and without defects by blaming the defect on a simple and cheap issue, the floor mat.

The class actions argue that Toyota violated Products Liability Law of varying states, that the defects in the subject vehicles render them unfit for their intended use and that Toyota breached their implied warranties of merchantability and fitness.

Further, the plaintiffs state that their vehicles are useless and inconvenient and they would not have purchased their vehicle had they known of the defect.

The plaintiffs are asking the court to award injunctive relief to prevent Toyota from proposing or implementing any fixes or possible solutions to the pedal defects that are untested or unapproved by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. The plaintiffs believe that Toyota may offer "unapproved, untested, and unworthy" fixes to the defective accelerator pedals that could cause irreparable harm.

The proposed class is also asking the court to require Toyota to furnish replacement or rental vehicles to the plaintiffs and the members of the class for the time period that they are denied the use of their vehicles due to the inherent dangers of the accelerator pedals.

The class action is seeking an award of punitive damages consistent with the "degree of Toyota's reprehensibility and the resulting harm to plaintiffs and members of the class, as well as an amount sufficient to punish Toyota and deter Toyota and others from similar wrongdoing."

In terms of sales per year, Toyota is the largest automobile manufacturer and has sold over 20 million vehicles in the United States in the past ten years.

Also on Jan. 29 in the federal court of the Eastern District of Louisiana, Amanda R. Maillho filed a similar class action that, if certified, will only represent Louisiana residents who are owners of the subject Toyota vehicles.

Both proposed class actions assert damages in excess of $5 million.

With identical allegations, Gary Brock filed suit on Jan. 29 in the federal court of the Eastern District of Louisiana.

On the same day, a Texas couple filed a similar suit against Toyota in federal court in Corpus Christi.

Jury trial is requested.

Class counsel includes Reserve, Louisiana attorneys Matthew B. Moreland, Toni Becnel, Daniel Becnel Jr., June Oswald, and Jennifer Crose of the Becnel Law Firm LLC; New Orleans attorneys Hugh Lambert, Linda Nelson, Cayce C. Peterson of Lambert and Nelson P.C. and New York attorneys Jerrold Parker, Andres Alonso and David Krangle of Parker Waichman Alonso LLP.

Case Nos 2:10cv00219, 2:10cv00279, and 2:10cv00281

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