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Toyota-gate? Suit Alleges Rollover Evidence Cover-Up

Posted in auto industry, Legal, Newsworthy, People, Politics, Press Release, Safety, Toyota by Alex Kierstein | September 30th, 2009 | Leave a Reply |

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It’s been a rough week for Toyota. The giant automaker has been slapped with a restraining order by a Texas judge to prevent the company from potentially destroying any information about an alleged spate of rollover accidents. The plaintiff in the case, Dimitrios Biller, alleges that there is “a Watergate style cover-up underway at Toyota to undermine the American legal system.” Biller claims that Toyota has been conspiring to conceal evidence about the relative safety of their vehicles, and might destroy the documentation. If the allegations are true, Toyota might be in the midst of another safety-related fiasco, especially in light of the “floormat inferno” scandal raging at the moment. Is Toyota engaged in nefarious doings, or is it just so large now that it’s an easy target for frivolous suits? More and a press release from Biller’s attorney below.

Of course, we’re dealing with the American legal system here, and more often than not a blustery request for a restraining order like this is used to strong-arm some leverage in the case, and to try and shake loose some documents that the plaintiff would not normally be able to simply ask for. And it’s also a media ploy, to bring attention to the issue, and that makes it worth reporting about – especially if the allegations turn out to be true. It’s worth noting that the simple fact that Biller was awarded the restraining order doesn’t mean that it was in response to a crack team of Toyota attorneys shredding anything in site, so you can’t conclude based on that alone that Toyota is guilty of any impropriety. However, it can’t be ruled out. It’ll be interesting to see what come out in court (although it’s more likely that a settlement will be reached out of court and we won’t ever know what really happened). Yay lawyers!

Press Release

Court Orders Toyota Not to Destroy Vehicle Safety Evidence

Attorney Todd Tracy Obtains Restraining Order in New Fraud Case

DALLAS, Sept. 30 /PRNewswire/ — A federal judge in Texas issued a sweeping Temporary Restraining Order today to prevent the Toyota Motor Corporation, its subsidiaries, and members of its in-house legal team from destroying any documents about the crashworthiness of all vehicles manufactured by the company.

The order comes in the wake of allegations that Toyota spent years conspiring to conceal evidence from the victims of rollover accidents according to a lawsuit filed by Dimitrios Biller, the former National Managing Counsel in charge of Toyota’s National Rollover Program. Biller worked as a lawyer for Toyota Motor Sales, U.S.A., Inc., from 2003 to 2007.

Dallas attorney Todd Tracy obtained the restraining order in connection with the filing of a 17th fraud case that seeks to reopen lawsuits in which key evidence might have been withheld. “Toyota should heed this judge’s warning from the board room to the assembly line that every single email, every document, every bit of research, and all information about vehicle safety is now put on hold. I filed the motion out of concern that Dimitrios Biller’s allegations describe that a Watergate style cover-up was underway at Toyota to undermine the American legal system.”

The litigation hold ordered by federal District Judge T. John Ward must be distributed throughout the entire company, to outside counsel, and to outside experts and contractors according to Tracy. The judge ordered Toyota not to destroy any documents pertaining to product liability cases, research, testing or documents subject to destruction under document retention policies. The judge will rule on issuing a permanent injunction in a hearing scheduled for October 7th.

The order is also directed at four top member’s of Toyota’s California based in-house legal team: Christopher Reynolds, VP and General Counsel of Toyota Motor Sales; Jane Howard Martin, Asst General Counsel in the Legal Services Group; Eric Taira, Asst General Counsel for TMS and Biller’s immediate supervisor; and Dian Ogilvie, Senior VP and General Counsel during Biller’s employment.

Tracy points out that Toyota continues to try to stop Biller from publicizing information about Toyota’s lawsuits. “Toyota characterizes Mr. Biller’s disturbing revelations as company trade secrets that shouldn’t see the light of day. I’m now confident that this Temporary Restraining Order puts us on the road to getting Toyota to tell the truth to its accident victims.”

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