Texas MDL panel consolidates 15 Toyota acceleration suits

Steve Korris Jul. 14, 2010, 7:00am


AUSTIN – Fifteen lawsuits from 11 counties over unintentional acceleration of Toyota vehicles will proceed in a single court.

The state's Judicial Panel on Multi District Litigation consolidated the cases for pretrial proceedings on July 12, at the joint request of Toyota and plaintiffs in 13 suits.

The panel appointed Harris County District Judge Robert Schaffer to preside over the cases.

"By their nature, product liability cases are related," Chief Justice Carolyn Wright wrote for the panel.

"Here, the 15 cases all allege unintended acceleration events in Toyota vehicles caused by product defects," she wrote.

"The product liability issues involve numerous common questions of fact," she wrote.

Questions include whether certain vehicles are prone to unintentional acceleration and what causes it, she wrote.

Questions include whether Toyota was aware of defects and failed to test or recall vehicles in a timely fashion, she wrote.

"These common questions of fact exist regardless of whether a plaintiff claims an unintended acceleration incident was caused by a defect in the vehicle's floor mats, accelerator pedal, or electronic throttle control system," she wrote.

The panel rounded up four cases from Harris County, two from Bexar County and one each from Dallas, Harrison, Galveston, Madison, Nueces, Brazoria, Montgomery, Hidalgo and Angelina counties.

"We note that parties and witnesses rarely need to attend pretrial hearings in person," Wright wrote.

Consolidation represents a setback for Dallas lawyer Todd Tracy, who pleaded to pursue claims for two clients in Dallas and Harrison counties.

Tracy had accused Toyota of forum shopping and warned that consolidation would subject his clients to leadership of "attorneys of the lowest common denominator."

He claimed he needed no discovery because his clients were ready for trial.

Wright responded that a multi district pretrial judge will remand a case that is ready for trial without regard to the readiness of other consolidated cases.

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