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Plaintiffs Seek Consolidation of Takata Injury and Economic Loss Lawsuits

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In November 2014, plaintiffs filed a motion with the U.S. Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation (JPML) to request consolidation of all class action Takata airbag lawsuits. In these lawsuits, plaintiffs seek compensation for the alleged economic losses suffered by vehicle owners who may no longer be able to sell their vehicles at full value because of concerns over Takata air bag defects.

The plaintiffs suggested the Southern District of Florida under the direction of District Judge James King as the most appropriate venue. The panel is expected to hear arguments for and against the MDL on January 29, 2015.

So far, Takata and auto makers involved in these class action lawsuits have filed responses indicating their general support for the MDL, but disagreeing about where the MDL should take place. They suggested the Western District of Pennsylvania as a better alternative.

More recently, a group of plaintiffs representing those who were injured or killed because of a defective Takata airbag have filed an “interested party response” requesting that any consideration of a Takata MDL include personal injury and wrongful death claims.

Takata Faces Personal Injury Lawsuits

In their response dated January 13, 2015, the plaintiffs noted that the previous motion to the JPML “specifically excluded personal injury claims from their complaints.” They added that the panel has already identified a number of personal injury lawsuits as related, but “it is not clear if all pending and future personal injury actions are within the scope of the Economic Loss Plaintiffs’ Motion to transfer and consolidate.”

About five deaths and over 100 injuries have already been linked with defective Takata air bags that can explode upon deployment, spreading metal and plastic shrapnel into the interior of the vehicle. Alleged victims have suffered knife-like wounds that have caused vision and hearing loss, as well as serious cuts to the neck and face—some that have resulted in unstoppable bleeding and death.

All Takata Air Bag Lawsuits Share Questions of Fact

The plaintiffs note that personal injury plaintiffs have filed at least five federal and state Takata air bag lawsuits, each claiming the air bag exploded and caused severe injury. They add that the courts can reasonably expect more such actions to be filed.

Though the plaintiffs in these cases seek compensation for different reasons—the first group for economic losses, and the second to cover medical expenses and lost wages—the cases still contain common questions of fact. These include the following:

• Takata was aware of a potential issue as early as 2001, but failed to take timely action to protect the public.
• Despite a number of recalls implemented by automakers, the problems continue to cause driver injury and death as recently as 2014.
• All actions arise from the same alleged defect, and from the same alleged misconduct by Takata and automakers defendants.

Consolidation of all cases would help reduce the risk of duplicative discovery and inconsistent rulings, the plaintiffs assert, while increasing convenience for all involved and saving judicial resources.

The plaintiffs again assert that the Southern District of Florida is the best transferee court, because:

• many accidents and injuries involving Takata air bags have occurred there,
• Florida’s U.S. Senators have taken an active role in Congressional investigation of the defects,
• most responses to the initial motion to consolidate have agreed that Florida is the best option,
• and the judges in the court (King and Moreno) both have the experience and resources to effectively handle this MDL.

As to the fact that the personal injury cases will involve some damages requiring discovery that “might not overlap with that required by the Related Economic Loss Actions,” the plaintiffs argue that the judge can design a discovery track to address these concerns.