First came the reports of sudden acceleration, then the recalls. And now, inevitably, the lawyers. Lots of them.
With Toyota Motor Corp. already facing scores of lawsuits stemming from alleged sudden acceleration incidents, about 150 lawyers gathered Wednesday for an all-day event to discuss litigation strategy over claims of deaths and injuries in accidents as well as the loss of resale value of used Toyota vehicles.
Those attending, including veterans of class-action litigation, didn’t shy away from portraying the situation as an opportunity of historic proportions.
“We’ve got a wonderful opportunity to fight a multifront war,” said W. Mark Lanier of the Lanier law firm of Houston, flashing on a screen a map suggesting the Allies’ assault on Nazi Germany during World War II.
How much money is involved?
“A hell of a lot,” said San Diego lawyer Kerry Steigerwalt, whose firm already has Toyota clients.
Indeed several lawyers at the event, hosted by HarrisMartin Publishing, a Pennsylvania-based publisher and website operator specializing in the legal and insurance industries, have clients suing Toyota. Others there were hoping to attract such clients.
A seven-judge panel known as the U.S. Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation is currently weighing whether to combine the disparate class-action suits and, if so, where to send the mega-case. But other suits will fall outside that category, raising a raft of issues.
Toyota declined to comment on the lawyer event.
“It regards pending litigation,” spokesman Mike Michels said.
One of the themes of the event, held at the Westin Hotel in downtown San Diego, was that Toyota has erred repeatedly in dealing with the situation. Among the claimed missteps: stalling on fixing problems, stonewalling customers seeking help, and issuing a late and unsatisfying apology.
Toyota’s strategy, said Jimmy Faircloth of the Faircloth law group in Alexandria, La., was classic old-school: hope the bad news goes away. When it didn’t, a carefully parsed apology followed.
“I don’t care if it’s Tiger Woods, Bernie Madoff, or Toyota, if an apology comes late it’s going to be seen as phony,” Faircloth said.
Toyota’s approach, said Ken Seeger of the Seeger, Salvas law firm in San Francisco, has been “purely market-driven, cold-hearted, insincere.”