A former company lawyer for Toyota Motor Corp., Dimitrios Biller, who managed the company’s document discovery program, sued the company in July, claiming that while he worked there, Toyota frequently withheld relevant documents in product-liability suits filed against it. According to the lawyer, US Toyota units destroyed engineering and testing evidence that would have impacted over 300 suits over SUV rollover accidents.
Toyota has denied the lawyer’s claim, but in 2005, a California court fined the company $139,000 for failing to turn over documents in a product liability case involving an allegedly defective Toyota forklift that tipped over, killing a worker who was standing on it to try to balance it.
Toyota may now face demands that all of the rollover-crash cases it won or settled over the past 10 years be reopened.
Biller, 46, said he worked from 2003 to 2008 managing records for Toyota litigation. He “suffered a complete mental and physical breakdown” battling company executives and finally resigned after objecting to Toyota’s insistence on hiding data, he said in a July 24 complaint in federal court in Los Angeles.
“Defendants are, and have, engaged in a systematic pattern and practice of discovery abuses and criminal acts against plaintiffs in litigation against the Toyota entities,” according to Biller’s complaint.
“This is the kind of publicity no company wants,” said Rebecca Lindland, an analyst at auto industry forecaster IHS Global Insight Inc. in Lexington, Massachusetts. “If the allegations are true, it would violate the trust so many people put into Toyota.” –Bloomberg
While companies concealing and destroying documents is obviously a serious threat to consumer safety, another threat is the secrecy agreements that corporations and manufacturers are allowed to enter into when they’re sued for producing faulty or dangerous products. Frequently, companies will not turn over information about their manufacturing and testing processes unless injured consumers and their attorneys agree to keep the information a secret from the public. As a result, the public is often kept in the dark about potentially dangerous products, and negligent corporations can continue to market and profit from these products.