Judge says Toyota can appeal ruling in lawsuit

By Moira Herbst

NEW YORK (Reuters) - A federal judge tentatively ruled on Tuesday that Toyota Motor Corp lawyers could appeal a previous ruling allowing consumers without sudden-acceleration claims to join litigation before a Santa Ana, California, court.

The tentative ruling by Judge James Selna allows Toyota's attorneys to appeal the May decision to the Ninth Circuit. The original decision allowed consumers who had not experienced unintended acceleration to nonetheless join a planned class-action lawsuit seeking economic damages.

Selna is overseeing hundreds of cases against the Japanese automaker related to safety problems. His Monday ruling is expected to become final next week.

Celeste Migliore, a spokeswoman for Toyota, said the company was preparing a statement. Requests for comment from plaintiffs' lawyers were not immediately returned.

The decision follows a setback for the plaintiffs last month, when Selna ruled that Toyota owners outside California who seek to recover losses from their vehicles' value cannot pursue their claims under California law. California consumer protection laws are more favorable for plaintiffs than those of most other states.

Toyota owners have argued that their vehicles lost value because the company failed to disclose and fix problems with electronic throttle control systems, causing the vehicles to unexpectedly surge forward. Toyota disputes this claim.

Toyota has in recent years recalled millions of vehicles for gas pedal and floor mat problems that owners have linked to unintended acceleration.

The case is In re: Toyota Motor Corp Unintended Acceleration Marketing, Sales Practices and Products Liability Litigation, U.S. District Court, Central District of California, No. 10-ml-02151.

(Reporting by Moira Herbst; additional reporting by Jonathan Stempel)