EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

December 30, 2012

Toyota to pay more than $1 billion to settle claims

By Brent Snavely
Detroit Free Press

---- — Toyota Motor said Wednesday it has agreed to settle a class action related to its 2010 recalls for unintended acceleration, at a cost between $1.1 billion and $1.4 billion.

The automaker said it plans to take a $1.1 billion accounting charge to cover the settlement.

Meanwhile, a law firm representing plaintiffs that sued Toyota estimates that the settlement could cost Toyota between $1.2 billion and $1.4 billion.

Either way, it is among the largest settlements of its kind.

“I can’t tell you for certain that it’s the largest ever,” said Carl Tobias, professor at the University of Richmond (Va.) who teaches product liability law. “It’s certainly a strong settlement, especially because some observers didn’t think these cases had much of a chance after” the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration “and NASA closed their investigations.”

In 2010, Toyota was stung when it was forced to recall millions of its most popular models after reports surfaced of cars that accelerated uncontrollably.

On Wednesday, Toyota said it plans to offer cash payments to eligible customers who sold or turned in their cars and trucks between 2009 and 2010 and to eligible current owners and lessees who will not be offered an upgraded brake-override system.

Toyota said it plans to retrofit additional models with a free brake-override system to provide an added measure of confidence that its vehicles can be stopped if they accelerate unexpectedly.

Toyota also agreed to pay another $250 million to reimburse owners whose vehicles cannot be retrofitted with the brake-override system.

“This was a difficult decision — especially since reliable scientific evidence and multiple independent evaluations have confirmed the safety of Toyota’s electronic throttle control systems,” Christopher Reynolds, Toyota’s group vice president and general counsel, said in a statement. “However, we concluded that turning the page on this legacy legal issue through the positive steps we are taking is in the best interests of the company, our employees, our dealers and, most of all, our customers.”

Steve Berman, a spokesman for attorneys representing Toyota owners, said: “After two years of intense work, including deposing hundreds of engineers, pouring over thousands of documents and examining millions of lines of software code, we are pleased that Toyota has agreed to a settlement that was both extraordinarily hard-fought and is exceptionally far-reaching.” Berman is managing partner of Hagens Berman Sobol Shapiro.

U.S. District Judge James Selna is expected to review the proposed settlement Friday.

The settlement, which could involve millions of customers, does not end Toyota’s exposure from the from the controversy surrounding reports of unintended acceleration. At least dozens of wrongful-death and personal injury cases are pending in other courts throughout the country.