SAN DIEGO — Attorneys for Toyota Motor Corp. and people suing the Japanese automaker over sudden acceleration problems urged a federal panel Thursday to consolidate more than 200 lawsuits before a single judge, with Los Angeles federal court emerging as the favored venue.

Toyota’s lead lawyer, Cari Dawson of Atlanta, told the U.S. Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation that the company favors combining all personal injury and wrongful death cases before the California court, along with all potential class-action lawsuits filed by Toyota owners who claim safety recalls caused the vehicles to lose value.

Los Angeles is close to Toyota’s U.S. headquarters in Torrance, where many key documents and witnesses crucial for all the cases are located, Dawson said. In addition, the first potential class-action case was filed there in November.

“All these cases have common issues. There will be significant overlap,” Dawson told the judges. “The Central District of California is uniquely qualified.”

Several of the 24 plaintiffs attorneys who spoke at the hearing also favored Los Angeles, which already has at least 34 pending Toyota cases, most of them before U.S. District Judge A. Howard Matz.

“We feel the center of gravity is in California,” said attorney Mark Robinson, known for class-action lawsuits and negotiating a $128 million settlement in a case involving exploding fuel tanks on the Ford Pinto.

Others attorneys have said, however, that a different site might eliminate an appearance of hometown bias.

Some plaintiffs lawyers favored centralizing the cases in Kentucky, where Toyota has a plant and engineering facility, or in Louisiana, New Jersey, Ohio, South Carolina, New York and elsewhere.

Lawyers said Toyota currently faces 138 potential class-action lawsuits over falling vehicle values and about 97 personal injury and wrongful death cases in federal courts nationwide.

Thursday’s 45-minute hearing took place in a packed courtroom where attorneys literally lined the walls and flowed out the doors to the hallway outside. Five of the seven judges on the multidistrict litigation panel took part in the hearing, including its chairman, U.S. District Judge John G. Heyburn II of Kentucky.

The panel expects to make a decision in about two weeks. It will set the stage for eventual trial or settlement of lawsuits that could cost Toyota billions of dollars in damages.

Stephen Sheller, a Philadelphia attorney, said he favors having more than one judge appointed because of the volume and complexity of the lawsuits.

“I don’t think it will happen here, but it may,” he said.

The judge or judges chosen will make several key decisions, including whether all Toyota owners affected by the recalls should be treated as a single class that would split any award for the vehicles’ lost value. Toyota also has already filed motions to dismiss some of the cases.


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