Toyota Accused of Concealing Evidence in Rollover Lawsuits

…Toyota officials responded that Mr. Biller was a disgruntled employee with a vendetta against the automaker and a history of breaking his word, including a nondisclosure promise made when he left the company. Mr. Biller responded that he was not bound by that promise because the information he was disclosing involved crimes.

http://wheels.blogs.nytimes.com
August 31, 2009

Toyota Accused of Concealing Evidence in Rollover Lawsuits
Christopher Jensen

One of Toyota’s former lawyers claims that for years the automaker had engaged in a conspiracy to obstruct justice by illegally withholding important documents in hundreds of product-liability suits brought against it.

The assertions were included in a suit filed by Dimitrios Biller, who had been the automaker’s national managing counsel for its rollover cases from 2003 to 2007.

Mr. Biller also claimed Toyota misled the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration as it considered tougher regulations for increasing roof strength, according to the suit, which was filed in the United States District Court for the Central District of California.

In their own court filings, Toyota officials responded that Mr. Biller was a disgruntled employee with a vendetta against the automaker and a history of breaking his word, including a nondisclosure promise made when he left the company.

Mr. Biller responded that he was not bound by that promise because the information he was disclosing involved crimes.

The automaker asked the judge in the case to seal it, keeping it from public view, saying it included information including “litigation tactics and discovery issues.” The judge has yet to rule on that request.

Toyota also issued a statement late Monday noting that the automaker “takes its legal obligations seriously and works to uphold the highest professional and ethical standards. Mr. Biller continues to make inaccurate and misleading allegations about Toyota’s conduct.”

The case could prove embarrassing for one of the world’s most respected automakers, at the least. At worst, it might allow lawyers who lost cases against the automaker or received less than they hoped to seek new trials.

“It creates all sorts of issues associated with whether fraud was committed, whether the company violated ethical standards and even possibly perjury,” said Tab Turner, a plaintiff’s attorney from Arkansas with extensive experience in rollover cases against automakers. Mr. Turner said the law varies around the country but if the allegations against Toyota are proved “potentially it could result in court-ordered reopening and an investigation into the circumstances surrounding the failure to disclose the information.”

Mr. Biller was suing for wrongful termination, emotional distress that he said led to psychiatric problems and civil violations of the federal Racketeer Influenced Corrupt Organization Act.

Mr. Biller joined Toyota in 2003, leaving a California law firm where he was a partner. According to the suit, Mr. Biller discovered that Toyota was often not providing electronically stored documents that should have been turned over to lawyers suing the automaker. That included information pertaining to Toyota’s “design, engineering, testing and evaluation” of vehicles. In the suit Mr. Biller cited several specific suits in which Toyota was ordered to turn over documents and failed to comply.

The suit also claimed that Mr. Biller failed to convince his bosses at Toyota that they were violating the law by not turning over information. Not only did they not agree, but in some cases information was destroyed, the suit said.

For example, Mr. Biller said Toyota concealed the existence of a rollover test that required about two inches of space between the roof and the head of a dummy after the test.

The suit said the automaker also misled N.H.T.S.A. in 2005 when the agency was considering requiring stronger roofs and asked automakers how quickly they could comply with a tougher standard.

Toyota’s first evaluation of the proposed upgrade showed the automaker could make the changes as quickly as the safety agency requested. Instead of providing that information, the automaker had a second study done that showed that it could not make the deadline, the suit said. The safety agency consequently allowed the automakers more time than it originally planned.

Mr. Biller said his protests about information not being turned over led to officials making threats about ending or damaging his career at Toyota. Eventually, he took a medical leave of absence, suffering psychiatric problems, including depression, and he later left the company.

In 2008, he worked for several months for the Los Angeles district attorney’s office. In May 2009, he filed a suit against that office claiming he was wrongfully discharged, slandered and was the victim of unfair business practices. In its filings, the district attorney’s office denied Mr. Biller’s assertions, but acknowledged he was dismissed and given a negative job evaluation.

Mr. Biller could not be reached for comment.

http://wheels.blogs.nytimes.com/2009/08/31/toyota-accused-of-concealing-evidence-in-rollover-lawsuits/


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Risks: Ad hominem attack, Big Auto, Career Limiting Move, CLM, Character assassination, Conspiracy to hide the true nature of events in order to avoid detection, Contracts seen as unenforceable or void, Crime enabled by solicitor:client privilege, Criminal charges, Deceit, Deceptive business practices, Disgruntled, Gag order (confidentiality agreement), Gag order used to conceal criminal wrongdoing, Hubris, Material facts were not disclosed, Mental health destroyed, Misrepresentations, Obstruction of justice, Perjury, Racketeering, Reputation damage masked by confidentiality agreements, Reputation management, Reputation risk, Shame - Humiliation emotion, Slander, Solicitor-client privilege used to shield white-collar crime (self and others), Whistleblowers, United States, 20090831 Toyota accused

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