* U.S. judge rules Toyota can appeal prior decision
* Could narrow class action claims against the company
* Ninth Circuit must agree to hear appeal
(Adds comment from plaintiffs’ lawyer)
By Moira Herbst
NEW YORK, July 19 (Reuters) - A federal judge ruled on Tuesday that Toyota Motor Corp (7203.T) lawyers could appeal a previous ruling allowing consumers without sudden-acceleration claims to join litigation before a Santa Ana, California, court.
The 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.
If Toyota files an appeal, the Ninth Circuit will decide whether it will hear the issue. Selna’s court in Santa Ana is overseeing hundreds of cases against the Japanese automaker related to safety problems.
Toyota said it was gratified by the ruling.
Plaintiffs’ lawyer Marc Seltzer expressed confidence that if the Ninth Circuit takes the appeal, the court’s decision will be affirmed.
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; Editing by Phil Berlowitz)