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Settlements may signal Toyota’s legal strategy

LOS ANGELES — As Toyota Motor Corp. chips away at settling lawsuits claiming its vehicles suddenly accelerate, the question remains whether attorneys who sued could prove to a jury there was a design flaw.

The company maintains stuck accelerator pedals, faulty floor mats, and driver error are the reasons for vehicles unexpectedly surging, while plaintiffs’ attorneys contend Toyota’s electronic throttle control system is to blame.

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Recent settlements totaling more than $1 billion by Toyota to resolve lawsuits involving economic loss and a few involving wrongful death claims may signal that the automaker doesn’t want to risk coming out on the losing end of a potentially costly court decision.

‘‘A bad loss in a jury trial would inflict lasting damage to Toyota in loss of public confidence,’’ said Los Angeles-based attorney Christine Spagnoli.

The company said Thursday it settled with the family of two people killed in a Utah crash that was set to go to trial next month and serve as a test case for hundreds of others.

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