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From Products Liability Law Daily, March 18, 2015

Cases organized and lead counsel appointed in Takata airbag MDL

By Susan Lasser, J.D.

All actions in the airbag multidistrict litigation (MDL) against Takata Corp. will be assigned to one of two tracks: a personal injury track or an economic damages track, according to an order by the federal district court in Florida overseeing the MDL. In addition, the court appointed four plaintiffs’ attorneys as lead counsel, and tentatively scheduled trial for March and April, 2016 (In re: Takata Airbag Products Liability Litigation, March 12, 2015, filed March 17, 2015, Morena, F.).

Background. Since 2008, automakers have recalled about 17 million vehicles with Takata air bags that can rupture when they deploy, producing fragments that can kill or seriously injure occupants. In February, the nationwide litigation concerning these airbags was consolidated in the Southern District of Florida by the U.S. Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation. The panel assigned the case to U.S. District Judge Federico A. Moreno.

Personal Injury Track. The “Personal Injury Track” will include all actions brought by individual plaintiffs claiming personal injuries caused by the allegedly defective airbags manufactured by Takata. These actions will “travel” under one consolidated amended complaint under one case name and number of one of the cases originally filed in the Southern District of Florida. This complaint, which will include all plaintiffs from all of the personal injury cases, must be filed by the end of April 2015. In addition, discovery for these cases are to be coordinated with those for the “Economic Damages Track.” However, discovery for personal injury damages that are unrelated to the products liability cases are to go forward with each individual attorney representing those individual plaintiffs who are participating in that discovery process right away, the court said. At the end of the discovery process, barring summary judgment, the personal injury plaintiffs will be severed and tried separately. Judge Moreno said that he would try the Southern District of Florida cases early in 2016, while plaintiffs from other districts will be transferred back to those districts for trial.

Economic Damages Track. The court explained that the “Economic Damages Track” will include the actions in which only economic damages without personal injuries are claimed by plaintiffs. The court stated that an amended class action complaint should be filed by April 30, 2015 under one of the case numbers originally opened in the Southern District of Florida. Further, discovery on the products liability component of these cases are to be coordinated with the Personal Injury Track.

Plaintiffs’ counsel. The court ordered that plaintiffs’ counsel should be organized so that there is a “Chair Lead Counsel,” separate lead counsel for the personal injury and economic damages tracks, and a plaintiffs’ steering committee. The court appointed Peter Prieto of Podhurst Orseck (Florida) as Chair Lead Counsel. The Plaintiffs’ Lead Counsel is generally responsible for coordinating plaintiffs’ activities during pretrial proceedings. Other responsibilities include: determining and presenting to the court the plaintiffs’ position on all matters during pretrial proceedings; coordinating discovery on the plaintiffs’ behalf; conducting settlement negotiations on behalf of the plaintiffs; delegating tasks to other counsel for pretrial preparation purposes; and preparing and distributing periodic status reports to the parties. The court also said that plaintiffs’ counsel who disagree with the lead counsel or “who have individual or divergent positions” can act on behalf of their clients separately, but only with prior authorization from the court.

In addition to the lead counsel, the court appointed the lead counsel for the two tracks: Curtis Miner of Colson Hicks Eidson (Florida) was appointed lead counsel for the personal injury track; and David Boies of Boies, Schiller & Flexner LLP (New York) and Todd A. Smith of Power, Rogers & Smith, P.C. (Illinois) were appointed co-lead counsel of the economic damages track. Also, James Cecchi of Carella, Byrne, Cecchi, Olstein, Brody & Agnello, P.C. (New Jersey); Elizabeth Cabraser of Lieff, Cabraser, Heimann & Bernstein (California); and Roland Tellis of Baron & Budd (Texas) were named by the court to the Plaintiffs’ Steering Committee for both tracks. Steering committee counsel is to coordinate the pretrial activity in consultation with the lead counsel.

Master docket, consolidation, and schedule. The court ordered that upon the filing of the two amended complaints in both the personal injury and damages tracks, all other cases will be placed in “civil suspense” and provisionally closed, with leave to reopen after the conclusion of all pre-trial proceedings. The court said that it expected to try the cases originally filed in the Southern District of Florida in early 2016, barring an appeal relating to the issue of class certification. Documents filed in the case will have the numbers, MDL No. 2599 and Master File No. 15-2599-MD-MORENO.

In addition to scheduling trial for March and April 2016, the court set other deadlines, including April 30, 2015, as the date by which consolidated amended complaints must be filed, and June 19, 2015, as the date by which motions to dismiss must be filed.

The case is MDL No. 2599 (Master File No. 15-2599-MD-MORENO).

Attorneys: Aaron Samuel Podhurst (Podhurst Orseck, PA) for Craig Dunn, Tru Value Auto Malls LLC, and Lemon Auto Sales, Inc. Bruce Kingsdorf (Barrios, Kingsdorf & Casteix, LLP) and Leonard A. Davis (Herman, Herman & Katz, LLC) for Gilbert Art, LLC. Andrew Bryan Zelmanowitz (Aronovitz Law) for Automotive Dismantlers and Recyclers Association, Inc. Martin Leonard Steinberg (Bilzin Sumberg Baena Price & Axelrod LLP) for FCA US LLC.

Companies: Tru Value Auto Malls LLC; Lemon Auto Sales, Inc.; Gilbert Art, LLC; Automotive Dismantlers and Recyclers Association, Inc.; FCA US LLC

MainStory: TopStory MotorVehiclesNews MotorEquipmentNews FloridaNews

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