Toyota faces an avalanche of U.S. lawsuits over its recall crisis, with a consortium of lawyers joining forces to sue for damages over the plummeting resale value of the automaker's cars.
A federal court hearing in San Diego next month will aim to group legal action involving 22 law firms across 16 states involving Toyota vehicle owners chasing financial compensation as a result of the crisis.
Tim Howard, a professor of law at Northeastern University and an authority in consumer law cases, is coordinating the latest wave of lawsuits under the banner of Attorneys Toyota Action Consortium (ATAC).
Howard, who helped win a $20 billion settlement for the state of Florida during the wave of litigation against big tobacco in the 1990s, said the Toyota cases would be one of the biggest in U.S. history.
"This is the strongest and largest case for economic damages to American consumers we've ever had," Howard said.
The lawsuit alleges that Toyota owners across the United States have seen the value of their vehicles decline sharply during the recall crisis and have also lost the use of their autos.
An ATAC statement cited news reports that alleged Toyota had covered up the problems, accusing the firm of "pocketing billions of American consumers dollars by falsely selling Toyota vehicles as the "quality" choice.
"Major used-car valuation services . . . have already downgraded resale value by as much as 3.5%, and consumers can expect an additional decrease up to 6%," Howard said. "As a result, Toyota owners have been robbed of their investment, along with their ability to trade in these vehicles rather than submit to hasty and questionable repairs.
"In the meantime, they have also lost the use of their car. That's economic damage, plain and simple. Toyota owners thought they were buying quality. Instead, they got a car so defective it could lead to their death."
Toyota, the world's biggest auto company has recalled more than 8 million vehicles worldwide over faulty accelerator and brake systems. The recall covers models with "sticky accelerators" that cause cars to race out of control, a defect blamed for several deadly high-speed crashes, and has widened to brake system problems in the Prius and other hybrid models.
Copyright Agence France-Presse, 2010
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