House Panel Finds Toyota ‘Deliberately Withheld’ Evidence in Lawsuits
February 27, 2010
(ChattahBox)—-Under the increasing glare of public scrutiny, Toyota Motor Corp is becoming exposed as a company with a notorious culture of secrecy, which contributed to its current safety related recalls, resulting in dozens of fatalities. And internal company documents subpoenaed by a congressional panel, show that the beleaguered automaker also kept manufacturing defects hidden from plaintiffs suing the company for damages. Rep. Edolphus Towns (D-NY), chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee said that Toyota “deliberately withheld” evidence in lawsuits related to vehicle safety, exhibiting a “systematic disregard for the law.”
The new charges against Toyota come just days after Toyota’s chief executive Yoshimi Inaba appeared before the House panel to apologize for Toyota’s handling of safety defects with the braking system in the company’s hybrid vehicles, and sudden acceleration problems involving millions of vehicles.
The documents, released by the House panel on Friday, were obtained from a lawyer who worked as a former in-house counsel for Toyota. The lawyer, Dimitrios Biller is pleased that Toyota’s disdain for the U.S. legal system is finally coming to light. He recently told ABC News that Toyota hid “evidence of safety defects from consumers and regulators, and fostered a culture of “hypocrisy and deceit.”‘
The 6,000 documents show that Toyota kept its manufacturing defects hidden away in “secret electronic ‘Books of Knowledge’” that were never disclosed to plaintiffs in product liability lawsuits.
After reviewing the documents, Towns says they show a concerted and coordinated effort to hide damaging information about vehicle defects from plaintiffs, during the discovery process of litigation.
“People injured in crashes involving Toyota vehicles may have been injured a second time when Toyota failed to produce relevant evidence in court,” Towns wrote in a three-page scathing letter to Inaba. Town also points out that Toyota’s willingness to withhold important evidence from plaintiffs in lawsuits, makes him question whether the automaker also withheld evidence from US safety regulators, as well. And further, Towns says that Toyota’s secrecy shows a pattern of an across-the-board company culture of putting the safety of its customers last.
The new documents also raise a “very serious question as to whether Toyota has also withheld substantial relevant information” from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, wrote Towns.
“We have to get to the bottom of this,” Towns said. “It is a situation that is just not going to go away if we ignore it.”
Toyota said in a statement that it “takes its legal obligations seriously,” but that it’s not uncommon “for companies to object to certain demands for documents made in litigation.” The automaker said it is “confident that we have acted appropriately with respect to product liability litigation.”
But the internal legal documents show a company policy of protecting information on design flaws kept in the “Books of Knowledge.” In a 2006 e-mail, Toyota’s former attorney Biller told his colleagues that he was forced to settle a rollover suit involving paralysis for $1.5 million because “frankly, plaintiff’s discovery efforts . . . were getting too close to requiring [Toyota] to produce the ‘Books of Knowledge.’ ”
Rep. Towns is demanding a response to his letter sent to Yoshimi Inaba, charging Toyota with withholding key evidence, by next Friday.
See the LA Times for more.