Plaintiff counsel alleged the Toyota Motor Corp. failed to disclose evidence of a defect in the heating and air conditioning systems that created a foul odor in one of their most popular vehicles.
By Michael A. Mora | December 09, 2021
A federal judge in Miami certified a class action in which plaintiff attorneys are seeking damages in the hundreds of millions of dollars against a multi-national automotive manufacturer and its related entities for allegedly violating Florida consumer protection laws.
With a class-action lawsuit assigned to U.S. District Judge Federico A. Moreno, attorneys Peter Prieto, a partner at Podhurst Orseck in Miami, Fand Joseph H. Meltzer, partner at Kessler Topaz Meltzer & Check, in Philadelphia, are among the lawyers against Toyota Motor Corp.
Moreno, who sits in the Southern District of Florida, certified a class of approximately 91,000 Toyota Camry owners, including Rodney Baker and Javier Cardenas, whom the federal judge designated as class representatives.
Moreno also designated Prieto and Meltzer as class counsel.
“Given the price of automobiles and how much time is spent driving, there has been a growing trend for car owners to no longer accept vehicles with any sort of defect, which in this case caused the cars to have a foul odor,” Prieto said. “It’s pretty basic—a new car should not be stinky.”
Toyota Claims RICO Victory
Eric Booth, a spokesman for Toyota and its related entities, including Southeast Toyota Distributors LLC and Toyota Motor Sales U.S.A. Inc., interpreted the federal court class certification differently.
Booth pointed to Moreno ruling that there was not a legal or factual basis for a Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act claim against the international multivehicle company. What remains is the class certification under the Florida Deceptive and Unfair Trade Practices Act.
“Toyota believes that plaintiffs do not have any credible evidence to support their remaining claim, and we will continue to defend against it,” Booth said in a statement. “We stand behind the efficacy and performance of our HVAC systems, and plaintiffs’ own testing showed that operation of their HVAC systems improved the air quality in their vehicles.”
Plaintiff counsel alleged that Toyota and Southeast Toyota Distributors deceived the class members into shelling out more money than they should have for their 2012 to 2014 non-hybrid Camrys under Florida consumer protection law, according to court documents.
In the class-action lawsuit, Prieto and Meltzer claimed the defendants failed to disclose evidence that there was a defect in the heating and air conditioning systems that created a foul odor in their vehicles.
Instead, the defendants allegedly had their dealers inform customers that the moldy, smelly stench was normal to avoid the financial burden of buybacks and the damage the accusations could have on their brand, according to the complaint. Prieto and Meltzer claimed the behavior violated Florida’s Lemon Law.
As a result, consumers overpaid for the vehicles by 25%. And an expert for the plaintiffs calculated that the damages for each class member could be calculated based on the overpayment per vehicle, the suit alleges.
Now, having certified the class, the case, in which plaintiff counsel is seeking over half a billion dollars in damages, will move toward trial with a date still pending.
However, by Moreno striking the RICO claim, the 91,000-member class is smaller than the plaintiff counsel initially sought due to their inability to provide class-wide evidence demonstrating Toyota’s deceptive conduct was closely linked to their injury.
Still, Prieto and Meltzer are confident in their case on the remaining claim—pointing to what they perceived as the larger implications of the federal court ruling.
“The court’s order shows that the class action device, when appropriately applied, is alive and well,” Prieto said. “It provides a remedy when a common defect or wrong impacts thousands of vehicle owners who expect their vehicles to be free from defects.”