Toyota class action suit to start with Utah case

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The first lawsuit to go to trial in a massive class action against Toyota Motor Corp. over acceleration problems that led the company to recall 14 million cars will involve a crash that killed two people in western Utah, a federal judge said Friday.

U.S. District Judge James Selna told attorneys the case of 38-year-old Charlene Jones Lloyd and 66-year-old Paul Van Alfen, whose Toyota Camry slammed into a wall in Utah in 2010, is scheduled to go to trial in February 2013.

The case — Van Alfen v. Toyota Motor Sales, U.S.A., Inc. — will be the first of several bellwether lawsuits, intended to determine how the rest of the litigation will proceed.

Selna wrote in a tentative order that he hoped the selection would "markedly advance these proceedings."

"The Court believes that selection of a personal injury/wrongful death case is most likely the type of case to meet that goal," Selna said.

Toyota said it welcomes the Utah case as the first suit to reach court.

"We are pleased that the initial bellwether will address plaintiffs' central allegation of an unnamed, unproven defect in Toyota vehicles, as every claim in the multi-district litigation rests upon this pivotal technical issue," the company said in a statement.

Toyota has previously argued the plaintiffs have been unable to prove that a design defect in its electronic throttle control system is responsible for vehicles surging unexpectedly. It has instead blamed driver error, faulty floor mats and sticky accelerator pedals.

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