Oversight chair accuses Toyota of withholding court documents, keeping secret 'Books of Knowledge'
UPDATED with Toyota response at 11:39 p.m.
Rep. Ed Towns (D-N.Y.), chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform committee -- which heard testimony from Toyota President Akio Toyoda earlier this week -- accused the company of withholding documents that they were legally required to turn over in liability lawsuits.
The documents came from former top U.S. Toyota lawyer Dimitrios Biller, who is locked in a legal war with Toyota. Biller says he is a whistleblower and has documents that prove that Toyota refused to hand over documents that could have harmed the company in cases in which customers were suing Toyota because of accidents.
This marks only the latest PR blow against the embattled Japanese auto giant, which seemed to weather the Capitol Hill grilling pretty well.
“In sum, the Biller documents indicate a systematic disregard for the law and routine violation of court discovery orders in litigation," Towns said in a statement. "People injured in crashes involving Toyota vehicles may have been injured a second time when Toyota failed to produce relevant evidence in court. Moreover, this also raises very serious questions as to whether Toyota has also withheld substantial, relevant information from NHTSA.”
Click here to read the documents (if they're still up on the site), which give a fascinating -- if torturous -- account of what a personal-injury settlement looks like, as Toyota comes to a settlement figure with a woman who became a quadriplegic following a rollover crash in her Toyota.
Biller was a lawyer in Toyota's product liability group from 2003 to 2007 and defended the company in large liability cases. Quoting from Towns's statement:
"Included in the documents is a memo, authored by Biller to his superiors at Toyota, noting that Toyota has failed to produce any emails or other electronic records in response to discovery orders. Additionally, the [Oversight and Government Reform] committee has found multiple references to secret 'Books of Knowledge' that were kept in electronic form, in which Toyota engineers kept their design and testing data across all vehicle lines and for all vehicle parts. The committee now has evidence that Toyota entered into multi-million dollar settlements in tort cases where they feared that the plaintiff’s lawyer was getting close to discovering the existence of the 'Books of Knowledge.' "
Books of Knowledge! Wow! This sounds like a Nicolas Cage mystery-thriller! "National Treasure: Books of Knowledge."
(Before we all get carried away, the "Books of Knowledge" may be nothing more nefarious than proprietary information and design specifications that Toyota wanted to prevent from falling into the hands of rivals.)
The committee has asked Toyota North America President Yoshimi Inaba to respond to these accusations by March 12.
Here's Toyota's response:
"Toyota takes its legal obligations seriously and strives to maintain the highest professional and ethical standards in its legal and regulatory practices. It is not uncommon, however, for companies to object to certain demands for documents made in litigation. Consistent with that philosophy, we take appropriate steps to maintain the confidentiality of competitive business information and trade secrets. We are confident that we have acted appropriately with respect to product liability litigation and our discovery practices and look forward to addressing Chairman Towns' concerns."
Follow me on Twitter at @theticker
February 26, 2010; 11:39 PM ET
Categories: Congress , Corporations , The Ticker | Tags: Akio Toyoda, Ed Towns, Toyota, Toyota problems, Yoshimi Inaba, toyota congressional hearings
Save & Share: Previous: NHTSA buys car that belonged to Runaway Lexus Lady for $42,500 -- twice Blue Book value
Next: AIG sells Asia insurance unit to Brits for $35.5 billion -- biggest taxpayer repayment so far
Posted by: screwjob2 | February 26, 2010 4:26 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: apez54 | February 26, 2010 4:51 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: lingering_lead | February 26, 2010 4:58 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: James10 | February 26, 2010 5:08 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: swschrad | February 26, 2010 5:09 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: Bitter_Bill | February 26, 2010 5:33 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: apez54 | February 26, 2010 5:49 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: AuthoritativeAuthoritarian | February 26, 2010 5:56 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: jralger | February 26, 2010 6:04 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: Pstacy | February 26, 2010 6:38 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: zennheadd | February 26, 2010 6:43 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: txengr | February 26, 2010 6:44 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: SISSD1 | February 26, 2010 6:56 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: 312capri | February 26, 2010 7:01 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: hairguy01 | February 26, 2010 7:58 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: ohiomc | February 27, 2010 5:21 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: stockprondia123 | February 28, 2010 9:33 AM | Report abuse
Posted by: stockprondia123 | February 28, 2010 9:34 AM | Report abuse
Posted by: katydid2 | March 5, 2010 10:35 AM | Report abuse
The comments to this entry are closed.