Twenty-one lawsuits filed statewide by people claiming their Toyota-made vehicles had sudden acceleration problems have been consolidated under a Nassau County judge for the first phase of the legal process.
State Supreme Justice Stephen Bucaria will coordinate the discovery phase of the cases, in which lawyers are required to exchange relevant documents for one another's review. The cases will likely later be sent back to the counties where they were originally filed for trial or settlement, Nassau County Court spokesman Dan Bagnuola said.
Jim Cohen, a professor at Fordham Law School, said consolidating similar cases where there is a common defendant during the discovery phase is not unusual. "The point is to have some uniformity, and to eliminate disparate treatment," Cohen said.
Beginning in 2008, Toyota recalled about 8 million of its vehicles for accelerator pedals that stuck or were trapped beneath mats. People have also filed lawsuits claiming that electronic flaws were to blame for some of the runaway cars, but a federal investigation found no evidence of that.
Of the 21 cases filed in New York State courts, only one happened on Long Island. In that case, plaintiff Maria Kerins, of Wantagh, claims her Toyota Prius accelerated uncontrollably after it was struck by another car on the Wantagh Parkway in 2005.
The car then struck a third vehicle, left the road and rolled over three times, according to the suit. Kerins, whose case was filed in Nassau County, suffered spinal injuries that required 10 weeks of hospital treatment, her lawyer has said.
Ann Pfau, the chief administrative judge of New York State courts, signed an order consolidating the cases for this phase, and chose Nassau as the venue for administrative reasons, Bagnuola said. Bucaria, who specializes in commercial litigation cases, was chosen by Nassau's Administrative Judge Anthony Marano, according to court documents.
At a preliminary conference with lawyers Wednesday, Bucaria said a database will be compiled containing all discovery documents, and lawyers in each of the 21 cases will have access.
The next conference date is Aug. 11.