Congress panel cites evidence of Toyota concealment



A paper trail of Toyota’s alleged misconduct in defending itself against personal injury suits was revealed in documents subpoenaed from a former in-house Toyota lawyer, said Edolphus Towns, chairman of the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Oversight and Government Reform.

The documents “indicate a systematic disregard for the law and routine violation of court discovery orders in litigation,” Towns wrote in a letter to Toyota Motor Corp’s North American chief, Yoshimi Inaba, demanding an explanation.

Moreover, the documents “raise very serious questions as to whether Toyota has also withheld substantial, relevant information” from U.S. auto safety regulators, Towns wrote.

The disclosure represents a potential bombshell for Toyota, whose top executives testified under oath before Towns’ panel that the company was fully cooperating with investigations into safety issues, including sudden, unintended acceleration, that have led to a worldwide recall of some 8.5 million vehicles.

In a statement issued on Thursday in response to Towns’ letter, the company defended its legal conduct, saying, “It is not uncommon … for companies to object to certain demands for documents made in litigation.”

“Consistent with that philosophy, we take appropriate steps to maintain confidentiality of competitive business information and trade secrets,” Toyota said. “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.”

‘BOOKS OF KNOWLEDGE’

The committee’s review of the subpoenaed documents found multiple references to a secret cache of data called the “Books of Knowledge” and kept in electronic form by Toyota engineers, consisting of design and testing data for all vehicle lines and parts, Towns said.

According to his letter to Inaba, the documents “indicate that Toyota entered into multimillion-dollar settlements in tort cases where they feared the plaintiff’s lawyer was getting close to discovering the existence of the Books of Knowledge.”

In one of those cases, the documents show, Toyota agreed to pay $1.5 million to settle a lawsuit stemming from a rollover accident in Texas that left a young woman, Pennie Green, a quadriplegic.

The material Towns cited was obtained by his committee under subpoena last week from Dimitrios Biller, who headed Toyota’s U.S. products liability legal team from April 2003 to September 2007.

Biller took the 6,000 pages of documents with him when he left the automaker and has since offered them as evidence in a lawsuit he filed against Toyota under U.S. racketeering laws, as well as for wrongful termination and emotional distress.

In the Green case,political issues, Biller said that Toyota Motor Sales — the automaker’s U.S. sales arm — had agreed to settle for up to $2 million to avoid disclosing key engineering information.

“Plaintiff’s discovery efforts … were getting mobile porn too close to requiring


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