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US settlement worth more than $1B in Toyota acceleration cases gets judge's preliminary OK

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LOS ANGELES, Calif. - A U.S. judge gave preliminary approval to a $1 billion-plus settlement with Toyota Motor Corp. in cases involving problems of sudden, unintended acceleration by its vehicles, a plaintiffs' attorney said.

Attorney Steve Berman said in a statement Friday he was pleased District Judge James V. Selna gave swift initial approval.

Toyota has said the deal, announced Wednesday, will resolve hundreds of lawsuits from motorists who said the value of their Toyota vehicles plummeted after recalls stemming from claims that the Japanese automaker's cars and trucks accelerated unintentionally.

The preliminary approval means current and former Toyota owners included in the settlement will receive information through notices expected to be mailed in early March. Information about the settlement will also be published in newspapers around the country.

Selna plans to hold a fairness hearing June 13 to consider granting final approval.

Numerous cases filed since 2009 were consolidated in Selna's court and divided into two categories: economic loss and wrongful death. Claims by people who seek compensation for injury and death due to sudden acceleration are not part of the settlement; the first trial involving those suits is scheduled for February.

Toyota has recalled more than 14 million vehicles worldwide due to acceleration problems in several models and brake defects with the Prius hybrid.

A spokeswoman for Toyota Canada said in an email that the settlement applies only to lawsuits filed in the U.S. and to owners and lessees of vehicles intended for sale in the U.S.

Toyota, which has blamed driver error, faulty floor mats and stuck accelerator pedals for the problems, plans to take a one-time, $1.1 billion pre-tax charge against earnings to cover the estimated costs of the settlement. Berman has said the total value of the deal is between $1.2 billion and $1.4 billion.

Toyota plans to 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 also will provide supplemental warranty coverage for certain vehicle components and retrofit about 3.2 million vehicles with a brake override system designed to ensure a car will stop when the brakes are applied, even if the accelerator pedal is depressed.

The settlement would also establish additional driver education programs and fund new research into advanced safety technologies.

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