Federal Lawsuit Charges Massive Cover-up of Auto Safety Data
DALLAS, September 10, 2009 – Since late 2002, University of Texas at Austin women’s track coach Bev Kearney has been struggling to regain use of her legs following a horrific rollover crash in a Lexus SUV. Kearney, the first black women’s head coach to win a Division I team national title, suffered spinal cord injuries that left her temporarily paralyzed. She has undergone numerous surgeries and years of rehabilitation to regain use of her legs and still walks on crutches. Two others in the vehicle were killed.
Had the public known, through lawsuits and release of information to government regulators about safety practices at Toyota Motor Corporation (NYSE:TM), tragic injuries such as these might never have occurred.
“The American legal system and vehicle owners need to rise up to ‘get Toyota to tell the truth’ about its hidden crash safety data,” said Dallas attorney Todd Tracy, recognized as one of the world’s top legal experts on vehicle accidents and safety defects that cause crashes. “Toyota was the top benefactor of the ‘Cash For Clunkers’ stimulus rebate program. Their cover-up of serious safety problems makes a ‘chump’ out of the American taxpayer.”
Revelations by a former Toyota lawyer that the company hid or destroyed crash safety data it should have disclosed in up to 300 civil lawsuits prompted Tracy to file suit seeking to reopen 15 cases in which key evidence might have been withheld. Among them is Kearny’s case.
“The days of Defendants destroying, concealing and hiding discovery must be abolished,” the lawsuit against Toyota Motor Corporation (NYSE:TM), Toyota Motor Sales, U.S.A., Inc., and four in-house Toyota lawyers states. “This type of conduct by Defendants is illegal, immoral, and unprofessional and deprives litigants of equal access. Defendants’ cloak and dagger games must be terminated.”
The suit brought by individuals killed or seriously injured in crashes involving Toyota vehicles accuses the world’s largest automaker of fraud and racketeering in withholding materials from the judicial system, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and the American public.
It accuses Toyota of engaging in “a pattern of discovery abuse that is tailor made for a Hollywood movie.” Toyota’s conduct “is more like a horror movie script to the victims of Toyota’s products,” the complaint states.
Attorney Todd Tracy called on Congress to launch an investigation. “This pattern of lying to the courts and federal auto safety regulators has taken a tragic toll on the principles of the American legal system and on countless unsuspecting victims in vehicle accidents. It reminds me of the federal testimony by Big Tobacco. I believe hundreds of auto accident cases will be reopened across the country so that victims can be fairly compensated for their injuries. Toyota needs to come clean to every owner of one of its vehicles. “
The suit seeks to revisit the previously settled cases in light of new information from Dimitrios Biller, who worked as a lawyer for Toyota from 2003 to 2007. In a lawsuit Biller filed against Toyota in July, the former top Toyota lawyer said the company spent years concealing evidence from victims of rollover accidents.
Biller, who worked for Toyota Motor Sales, U.S.A., Inc. in Torrance, Calif., worked on the company’s legal response in rollover cases. He was immediately “surprised and alarmed” at how Toyota withheld critical electronic communications such as internal email and crash test data in cases where injured people had sued Toyota following rollover accidents, Biller’s lawsuit states. Victims in these cases, many involving trucks and SUVs, were frequently killed or seriously injured by crushed roofs and contend in their lawsuits that the deaths and injuries were a result of weak roofs in Toyota vehicles.
In his complaint, which Toyota tried unsuccessfully to seal from public view, Biller said that in at least two cases, one in Colorado and one in Texas, Toyota defied court orders requiring it to fully disclose important emails and other electronic data.
When Biller learned of a failure to produce design and test data from an engineering unit, he attempted to collect and preserve the information, his lawsuit states. Despite his efforts, the engineering subsidiary “was allowed to destroy relevant information and documents that should have been produced in, approximately, over 300 rollover accidents involving roof crush issues.” One document, for instance, spelled out Toyota’s internal requirement that roofs be stronger than federal standards. Biller said engineers and witnesses for the company repeatedly testified that Toyota did not have such a standard. Biller said “there are vehicles on the highway today that do not satisfy that requirement.”
Other data describing Toyota’s testing standards was destroyed in late 2005 or early 2006 and was never furnished to victims’ lawyers, he said. “This data was relevant in numerous rollover and roof crush cases spanning a period of over 20 years,” the lawsuit states.
Biller repeatedly complained to his supervisors that the company was illegally withholding evidence. Not only did they not correct that problem, his complaint states, they instructed him not to preserve electronic communications he had collected and ordered him not to produce emails, at least once in blatant defiance of an order from a Texas judge. He said his supervisor told him to uphold “the ‘Golden Rule,’ i.e., protect the client at all cost even if that means committing illegal actions.”
The whistle-blowing lawyer also says Toyota repeatedly concealed information from federal safety officials, who enforce government standards on matters such as roof strength. In August 2005, Toyota withheld an engineering report from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration that concluded the company could comply with new, more stringent government rules, Biller says. Instead, Toyota “hired another engineering firm to give a second, different opinion, and that second report was provided to NHTSA. The original report never was provided and was ‘buried.’”
The complaint brought in the Eastern District of Texas makes its own reference to the Golden Rule. “Defendants have violated the one rule that every child in America is taught — do unto others, as you would have them do unto you,” it states.
For More Information Contact Robert Riggs, Spokesman for the Tracy Firm Attorneys at Law email@example.com