UPDATE 1-U.S. judge approves Toyota's $1.1 bln acceleration deal


By Dan Levine

SAN FRANCISCO, Dec 28 (Reuters) - A U.S. judge granted preliminary approval on Friday to Toyota Motor Corp's $1.1 billion settlement of a class-action lawsuit brought by consumers who lost value on their cars due to sudden, unintended acceleration.

The order on Friday came from U.S. District Judge James Selna in Santa Ana, California, who scheduled a hearing for final approval of the deal in June. Representatives for the plaintiffs and Toyota could not immediately be reached for comment.

About 16 million Toyota, Lexus and Scion vehicles sold in the United States spanning the model years 1998 to 2010 are covered by the settlement. Company officials have maintained that the electronic throttle control system was not at fault, instead blaming ill-fitting floor mats and sticky gas pedals.

A study by federal safety officials at the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and NASA found no link between reports of unintended acceleration and Toyota's electronic throttle control system.

Toyota, the No. 3 automaker in the U.S. market, admitted no fault in proposing the settlement, one of the largest U.S. mass class-action litigations in the automotive sector. One plaintiff's law firm called it the largest settlement in U.S. history involving auto defects.

However, the deal does not cover wrongful death or injury lawsuits, believed to total more than 300 according to a Toyota filing in June.

Toyota's recall of its vehicles between 2009 and 2011 relating to the unintended acceleration issue hurt its reputation for reliability and safety.

But the automaker's sales were up almost 29 percent in 2012 through November, compared with a 14 percent increase in the industry, and Toyota's share of the U.S. market has risen to 14.4 percent from 12.7 percent in 2011.



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