US lawyers seek billions from Toyota for vehicle value loss


  • Business
  • Friday, 12 Mar 2010

CHICAGO: US lawyers are seeking billions of dollars from Toyota to compensate the millions of people who saw the value of their vehicles drop in the wake of a series of mass safety recalls.

These economic damage class action lawsuits could potential dwarf payouts for wrongful death and personal injury cases and threaten to embroil the Japanese automaker in a drawn-out legal battle over whether it conspired to hide deadly defects.

“This will be the largest automobile class action in history,” said attorney Tim Howard, who hopes to gain court approval to include the owners of eight to 10 million Toyotas in a nationwide class-action lawsuit.

Individual payouts to Toyota owners could potentially come in at US$500 to US$1,000, Howard said in a telephone interview.

He hopes to triple that award by proving that Toyota deliberately misled its customers about the safety of its vehicles and should be convicted of racketeering and fraud charges. “Toyota sacrificed innocent, trusting lives for profit and hubris,” he wrote in an amended civil complaint filed on Wednesday in a Florida court.

The complaint accuses Toyota of concealing information about problems with sudden, unintended acceleration it has known about since 2002 and lying to the public about the true cause in order to “minimise the effects on future sales and leases and to minimise the recalls’ effects on their profits.”

The final tab could potentially top US$30bil, said Howard, who teaches law at Northeastern University and has taken on tobacco companies and soft-drink makers in high-profile lawsuits.

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