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Toyota to enter settlement negotiations

Dec. 14, 2013 @ 12:00 AM

SANTA ANA, Calif. -- After a four-year legal battle, Toyota is entering settlement talks on hundreds of lawsuits that allege sudden unintended acceleration problems with its vehicles led to deaths and injuries.

A motion filed late Thursday in U.S. District Court in Santa Ana indicated both sides would begin an "intensive settlement process" next month.

The Japanese automaker, which has recalled millions of cars since 2009 over the issue, agreed to the negotiations to make resolving the cases more efficient, spokeswoman Carly Schaffner told The Associated Press on Friday.

"We continue to stand behind the safety and quality of our vehicles," she said.

Lead plaintiffs' attorneys Elizabeth Cabraser, Todd Walburg and Mark Robinson Jr. did not return calls seeking comment.

The settlement negotiations come less than two months after an Oklahoma jury awarded a total of $3 million in damages to the injured driver of a 2005 Camry and to the family of a passenger who was killed.

The ruling was significant because Toyota had won all previous unintended acceleration cases that went to trial. It was also the first case where attorneys for plaintiffs argued that the car's electronics -- in this case the software connected to the Camry's electronic throttle-control system -- were the cause of the unintended acceleration.

At the time, legal experts said the Oklahoma verdict might cause Toyota to consider a broad settlement of the remaining cases. Until that case, Toyota had been riding the momentum from several trials where juries found it was not liable.

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