An arbitrator has ruled that a former Toyota Motor Corp. attorney can use internal company documents to support his claim that the Japanese auto maker deliberately hid evidence in their auto products liability lawsuits. According to a news report in the Los Angeles Times, the former attorney, Dimitrios Biller, alleges that Toyota officials hired him to plan and carry out discovery fraud on behalf of the company.
Internal Documents to Tell the Story
The arbitrator’s ruling clears the way for internal memos, e-mails, test reports and other documents to be used as evidence in this case. It is no doubt a major legal setback for Toyota and a victory of plaintiffs attorneys in numerous pending auto products liability cases against the auto maker – most of them related to faulty gas pedals and defective floor mats that resulted in unintended acceleration. Now these auto product liability lawyers can subpoena the documents as evidence to help bolster their cases.
Last month, the Texas Supreme Court ruled that Toyota must face contempt of court charges for hiding evidence in a 2007 rollover lawsuit. So far this year, Toyota has issued auto product defect recalls for more than 12 million vehicles, many of them related to sudden acceleration issues. Toyota in May also paid an unprecedented $16.4 million government fine for dragging its feet on recalls related to unintended acceleration problems in its vehicles.
Did Toyota Commit Criminal Fraud?
Biller’s lawsuit was filed in July 2009 and accused Toyota of committing a conspiracy to hide and destroy evidence in its auto product liability lawsuits. A federal judge recently ruled in arbitration that these documents can be used because they fall under the “crime-fraud exception” and are not subject to attorney-client privilege. The judge however made it clear that he has not ruled that Toyota has committed a crime. The documents will not be made public. Toyota officials continue to maintain that they have done nothing wrong and that Biller is making inaccurate and misleading statements about their conduct.
As a leading auto product defect law firm in the country and as a law firm that is representing several victims in Toyota sudden acceleration cases, we are very interested to see how Biller’s case against Toyota plays out. Did the auto maker actually commit criminal fraud in hiding important information from consumers and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA)?
I believe that these internal memos, e-mails and documents should not only be made available to attorneys, but also to the consumers who put their faith in Toyota’s vehicles. At least 100 consumers have paid the ultimate price and lost their lives as a result of these auto product defects. Toyota could have prevented thousands of injuries as well as these tragic deaths, had officials issued a timely recall and been forthcoming with information regarding the auto defects.
Do you believe these internal Toyota documents should be made available to the public? We would like to hear your opinions on this important issue.