Judge finalizing deal in Toyota acceleration cases

SANTA ANA, Calif. (AP) — A California judge said Friday that he's finalizing a settlement worth more than $1 billion in cases

where motorists say the value of their Toyota vehicles plunged after recalls over claims they unexpectedly accelerated.

U.S. District Judge James Selna said he was

approving the deal that was announced in December and will affect 22

million consumers.

Hundreds of lawsuits have been filed against

Toyota since 2009, when the Japanese automaker started receiving

numerous complaints

that its cars accelerated on their own, causing crashes, injuries

and even deaths. More than 14 million vehicles have been

recalled since the claims surfaced.

Toyota has denied the allegations, blaming driver error, faulty floor mats and stuck accelerator pedals for the problems.

Steve Berman, an attorney representing

Toyota owners, has said the settlement is the largest in U.S. history

involving automobile

defects, estimated to be in value of up to $1.6 billion. He added

that those who sold their vehicles at a loss can receive

anywhere from $125 to $10,000 depending on the level of

depreciation.

"This is a great settlement for consumers," Berman said. "It includes both safety fixes to make Toyota vehicles safer, as

well as monetary relief for owners who saw a reduction in their vehicle's value."

An email message left for Toyota was not immediately returned. The company had previously said it will take a one-time, $1.1

billion pre-tax charge against earnings to cover the estimated costs of the settlement.

The cases were consolidated before Selna in

Orange County and divided into two categories: economic loss and

wrongful death.

Toyota has settled a couple of wrongful death cases, and the first

one to go to trial is scheduled to begin in a Los Angeles

courtroom next week.

As part of the economic loss settlement, Toyota will offer cash payments from a pool of about $250 million to eligible customers

who sold vehicles or turned in leased vehicles between September 2009 and December 2010.

The company will launch a $250 million

program for 16 million current owners to provide supplemental warranty

coverage for

certain vehicle components, and it will retrofit about 3.2 million

vehicles with a brake override system, which is designed

to ensure a car will stop when the brakes are applied, even if the

accelerator pedal is depressed.

The settlement also sets up additional driver education programs and funds new research into advanced safety technologies.

The main contention in the remaining wrongful death cases is whether a design defect — namely an electronic throttle control

system — was responsible for Toyota vehicles surging unexpectedly.

Both the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and NASA were unable to find any defects in the automaker's source

code that could cause problems.