Miller Barondess Wins $15.8 Million Jury Verdict Against Toyota

Miller Barondess Wins $15.8 Million Jury Verdict Against Toyota

After a two-month jury trial, Miller Barondess prevailed when an Orange County jury awarded its clients, two Toyota dealerships/franchisees, $15.8 million in damages against Toyota.

The dealerships argued that Toyota had retaliated due to their aggressive and consumer-friendly stance on safety. When they observed that third-generation Prius vehicles were suffering from dangerous vehicle shutdowns, the dealerships placed the vehicles on stop-sale and blew the whistle with federal regulators. Toyota retaliated by, among other things, depriving the dealerships of the fastest-selling, most profitable models.

The lawsuit filed in Orange County Superior Court in 2017 sought damages for Toyota’s retaliatory conduct and inadequate recall remedies. Toyota was represented by three firms with a fourth firm working behind the scenes with Toyota’s ten experts. The Miller Barondess team fended off a demurrer, a motion to strike, and a motion for summary judgment on its way to bringing the case before a jury in the spring of 2019.

With the dealerships alleging that Toyota had discriminated against them with its vehicle allocation system, Miller Barondess took aim at Toyota’s vehicle allocation algorithm, known in the industry as “balanced days supply.” Toyota, along with other manufacturers who use a similar system, argue that the algorithm is non-discretionary and free of bias. Toyota leans on this system to defend lawsuits from its dealers.

During the two-month trial, the Miller Barondess team put Toyota’s allocation system under intense scrutiny. Building a statistical model with millions of data points, Miller Barondess established that Toyota retained significant discretion under the system and that it systematically used its discretion to harm the client and help competitors. Miller Barondess also presented evidence that Toyota had covered up dangerous safety defects until the client’s whistleblower report spurred federal regulators to seek answers from Toyota. This led to Toyota issuing a new recall in October 2018 on the very vehicles that the client had placed on stop sale a year prior.

Miller Barondess prevailed at trial. The jury unanimously found in favor of the dealerships, ruling that Toyota had breached its franchise contract and awarding the franchisees $15.8 million in damages.

The firm’s result in this case shows that Miller Barondess’ aggressive and leanly-staffed approach is effective against even the most well-resourced opposition. Miller Barondess’ three-attorney trial team defeated Toyota’s much larger trial team from three law firms, including two national law firms and a trial boutique specializing in automotive-safety cases. Toyota spent nearly $1.5 million on expert witnesses alone, but could not convince a single juror that Toyota was not liable.

This case continued Miller Barondess’ track record of success in high-stakes cases against auto manufacturers. Partner Amnon Siegel was the lead trial lawyer. He was assisted by associates Casey Sypek and Andrew Schrader, along with paralegal Kathryn Clark. This case marks Siegel’s second major verdict against an auto manufacturer, following up on his 2017 jury award of $256 million on behalf of a Nissan dealer against Nissan’s financing arm.