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California judge combines state court claims against Toyota

A California judge on Wednesday consolidated more than 40 pending state court claims against Toyota [corporate website; JURIST news archive] relating to an alleged safety defect that caused cars to accelerate out of control. The claims include consumer-fraud class action and personal injury lawsuits. Judge Carl West of the Los Angeles County Superior Court [official website] recommended [Reuters report] that the state court lawsuits be heard by a judge in Orange County. The final decision on whether to consolidate the claims will be made by state Supreme Court [official website] Chief Justice Ronald George, who is expected to announce his decision in two to three weeks. Toyota is also facing more than 100 federal lawsuits, which were consolidated [JURIST report] last month. The state and federal claims will remain separate.

Last month, Toyota accepted a record civil penalty of $16.375 million [JURIST report] imposed by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) [official website] for a four-month delay in notifying the agency about a problem with "sticky" and "slow to return pedal" gas pedals in various car models. The fine, the largest ever assessed against a car maker, was based on a preliminary review of extensive corporate documents attained through an investigation [press release] launched by the NHTSA in February. Toyota has been under federal scrutiny since December 2009, and has recalled more than 8.5 million vehicles.

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