LOS ANGELES -- Toyota Motor Corp. agreed to pay $10 million to settle a lawsuit over a fiery San Diego crash last year that claimed four lives and drew national attention to the issue of sudden acceleration in its vehicles.
The automaker's settlement with relatives of California Highway Patrol Officer Mark Saylor and three of his family members was disclosed in September but the amount it paid was not released then.
Toyota and the families had moved to keep the amount secret, but that request was denied by a Superior Court judge Monday. The amount was confirmed Thursday by Larry Willis, an attorney for a Lexus dealership that also is a defendant in the case.
The effort to keep the terms secret was opposed by the Lexus dealer that loaned the ill-fated car to Saylor, as well as by the Los Angeles Times, other media and the Orange County district attorney.
"Toyota and the Saylor and Lastrella families reached a private, amicable settlement through mutual respect and cooperation without the involvement of the courts," the automaker said, "so we are disappointed that the amount of this settlement has now been made public against the express wishes of these families and Toyota."
Attorneys for the families could not be reached immediately for comment.
In exchange for the payment, the families -- Saylor's parents and those of his wife, Cleofe Lastrella, and his brother-in-law, Chris Lastrella -- agreed to drop their lawsuit against the automaker. They had alleged that defects in the 2009 Lexus ES caused it to accelerate out of control before crashing in August 2009, killing all four occupants, including Saylor's daughter, Mahala, 13.
The moments leading up to the crash were captured in a chilling 911 recording that led to the first of a series of safety and quality recalls by Toyota in the past 14 months.
Since then, the automaker has faced a series of federal investigations, recalled millions of vehicles worldwide and been hit with scores of lawsuits in state and federal courts.
The Saylor-Lastrella suit was widely considered the strongest against Toyota, so settling it eliminates the risk of a huge jury verdict. Though a large amount, the terms are well below other personal-injury settlements recorded in California that have reached more than $30 million.
Toyota and the families had asked Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Anthony J. Mohr to seal the settlement on grounds that it could draw unwanted attention to the victims' families, potentially color the opinion of juries in related cases and risk irreparable damage to the automaker's reputation.
But on Monday, the judge denied that motion, saying that a compelling reason to keep the agreement secret had not been made. He granted the parties 48 hours to seek an appeal. That window closed late Wednesday.
Mohr also gave them until Dec. 30 to withdraw the settlement entirely.
"This case contains allegations against one of the world's largest automakers, and there are a lot of people that drive its cars," Mohr said. "What about their right to know?"
Toyota disagreed with his decision, noting that it was "against the express wishes of Toyota and these families."
Bob Baker Lexus of El Cajon, Calif., which remained a defendant in the case, contended that the size of the settlement had a material effect on its defense.
The Times, other media and Orange County District Attorney Tony Rackauckas joined Baker Lexus in arguing that the settlement should be disclosed, especially since the case was public and the deal was brought before a public court for approval.
"The court's review of the settlement of a public-safety case that has drawn international attention should not be shrouded in secrecy," argued attorney J.P. Jassy, representing the Times, Bloomberg News, The Associated Press and the San Diego Union Tribune. "Public confidence demands openness."
Willis, the lawyer for Bob Baker Lexus, said he had reviewed the settlement as part of the litigation but had been under court order not to discuss the details until now.
He said he waited until Thursday to speak so he could be sure that Toyota had not filed an appeal and had not won a higher court order sealing the information again. He declined to say whether he thought the settlement was fair.
It's unclear whether the settlement would offset a possible verdict against the dealership.
The still-pending lawsuit against the dealership alleged that it was negligent for installing a floor mat from a different vehicle in the Lexus ES, which could have caused the accelerator pedal to become stuck. .
Toyota did not admit or deny liability in settling the case.
Separately, Toyota agreed this week to pay $32.4 million in fines to the U.S. Transportation Department for delaying notifications and recalls related to sudden acceleration and a separate steering issue. Earlier this year, Toyota paid a $16.4 million fine for delaying a recall involving sticking accelerator pedals.
Details of how Toyota's settlement in the Saylor-Lastrella case was to be divided among family members, and how much attorneys would receive, were not contained in the court filing.
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