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A new definition of chutzpah?

We all know the old definition of chutzpah -- the plea for "mercy because I'm an orphan" by the person who has just been convicted of killing his parents. The current class action against Toyota for unintended acceleration in California may serve as an even better illustration of the concept, however.

Recall that government tests have failed to replicate the claim that certain Toyotas and Lexuses "accelerate by themselves." The conclusion is well-nigh inescapable that driver error (either through absent-minded placing of one's foot on the gas pedal or through negligent placement of mats on said pedal) is at fault. This has not prevented a massive class action in California, however. For our purposes the highlight of the class action is the claim for pure economic damages, i.e., for the lowered resale value of the impugned car models. Pure economic harm is of course not claimable in most jurisdictions -- a car must in most places be "defective" and "unreasonably dangerous," and lead to personal injury or property damage, before any economic damage may be claimable. But California law is more ambiguous on this point, and the class attorneys have convinced federal judge James Selna that California law should apply to all plaintiffs, regardless of where they purchased their car and regardless of whether in fact their car ever had any instance of unintended acceleration. The cars were apparently shipped from Japan to a California point of entry, and that is apparently a sufficient nexus to allow someone who has never been to that state to invoke its radically pro-plaintiff damages rule.

I could comment forever on the legal problems created by this ruling. For now let me point out the delicious chutzpah involved. In a nutshell, here's the technique: 1) announce that you will sue Toyota for an incident for which Toyota is NOT responsible; 2) give massive publicity to the suit; 3) claim that this publicity has lowered the resale value of the models in question; 4) use that lowered resale value as the damages to be claimed in the suit.

Only in America, right?

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Rafael Mangual
Project Manager,
Legal Policy

Manhattan Institute


Published by the Manhattan Institute

The Manhattan Insitute's Center for Legal Policy.