MADISON, Wis. — Toyota Motor Corp., still faced with hundreds of state and federal lawsuits on Toyota's unintended acceleration problems, has agreed to start an intensive settlement process.
Carly Schaffner, a spokeswoman at Toyota, confirmed that the company has begun the settlement negotiation process.
The latest development represents a 180-degree reversal for Toyota, which for years had strenuously denied any malfunction in its vehicles' electronic throttle control system. The automakers' standard explanation for a rash of sudden-acceleration accidents blamed driver error, loose floor mats, or a sticky accelerator pedal.
Toyota's decision to open talks for settlement comes two months after the Japanese carmaker lost for the first time in a public court in a trial in Oklahoma. The Oklahoma case was significant, because the plaintiff's attorneys, for the first time, argued the case by placing the blame squarely on defects of Toyota's electronic throttle control system, backing up the claim with sufficient evidence to convince a jury.
More than 300 lawsuits in federal and state courts nationwide are said to be pending, while most of those cases have been consolidated in Southern California, with the federal cases in a US District Court in Santa Ana and the state cases in Los Angeles County Superior Court.
According to the L.A. Times, which broke the story late on Thursday, December 12, the two judges handling those consolidated cases issued orders earlier on Thursday saying that Toyota had agreed to begin the settlement process. They stayed all pending cases in their courtrooms pending the outcome of negotiations.
Under the courts' orders, Toyota will begin settlement conferences on a case-by-case basis in February. If a deal cannot be reached, the suits will go before a mediator, and if still unresolved could be returned to a trial schedule, according to the L.A. Times.
— Junko Yoshida, Chief International Correspondent, EE Times