Plaintiffs and Toyota Agree to Sudden-Acceleration Settlement

by Brian Wolfman

The Impact Litigation Journal reports that

The parties have announced a settlement in the Toyota sudden acceleration multi-district litigation pending in a Santa Ana federal court. Under the terms of the settlement, which must now receive judicial approval, Toyota will install a brake-override system in some 3.25 million vehicles in addition to paying cash compensation, which will be measured by the diminution in the value of the cars that were the subject of the lawsuit. As many as 16 million current and former Toyota owners are eligible to participate in the settlement.

If approved by the court, this settlement will be one of the largest automotive class-action settlements in history. To me, the interesting part of the settlement is the recall relief that requires Toyota to install brake-override systems in class members' cars.

Read the proposed settlement. Exhibit 1 to the agreement describes the notice program aimed at alerting covered Toyota owners to the deal. Exhibit 10 explains which Toyota models are covered by the deal. Exhibit 16 explains that the amounts of money available for distribution to some individual class members will differ, among other reasons, based on the class member's state of residence (because, the settling parties say, the relevant law differs among the states).

As described in Exhibit 15, the settlement also requires that Toyota

fund scientific research by leading U.S. universities into the development of new active safety technologies and/or standards, as well as testing guidelines for emerging technologies … . In addition, Toyota has agreed to fund a national multi-media and community-based public-education campaign, supported by scientific research, that works to inform, enhance and promote safer driving among consumers. The parties agree that these safety research and education programs are tethered to the nature of, and certain issues in, the Actions and further the interests of Class Members.

In this regard, note that the relevant federal regulator — the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHSTA) — has said the underlying safety problem wasn't that Toyota cars accelerated out of the blue, but that drivers unintentionally accelerated when they meant to hit the brakes. We blogged earlier about lawsuits that claimed that cars should be equipped with brake-override technology that shuts down the accelerator when the brakes are applied. NHTSA is seeking a new federal regulation that would require all new cars and light trucks to include brake-override systems.

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