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Toyota May Be Forced To Reopen Rollover Crash Cases

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Toyota Motor Company is already facing demands that roll-over crash cases it settled or won be reopened, after a former company attorney, Dimitrios Biller, accused the automaker of hiding records sought by plaintiffs’ attorneys. Biller worked with Toyota from 2003 to 2008 managing records for the company’s litigation; he resigned, however, in 2008 after he disagreed with Toyota’s insistence on hiding data. Biller filed a wrongful termination lawsuit against the world’s largest automaker in July, claiming it destroyed electronic documents and crash test evidence relevant in more than three hundred suits regarding sport-utility vehicle rollover accidents. Biller also asserts that Toyota did not completely disclose crash test results that were part of an industry group position on proposed federal rules on roof safety; he claims Toyota did not tell the federal government about an unfavorable result, but repeated the test and reported only results that supported its position. The petition alleges this behavior by Toyota would cause every case resolved by Toyota in the past decade to be reopened.

Following Biller’s petition, Todd Tracy, a Dallas attorney, says he will file to reopen fifteen lawsuits involving rollover accidents in Toyota vehicles. Tracy says he will attempt to reopen the cases on the basis of fraud and racketeering if Toyota did not hand over the appropriate files. In the cases Tracy has handled through the years, the automaker’s experts have never acknowledged the existence of internal test data that should have been made available. Another attorney in California last week filed to reopen two cases and sought class-action status.

A spokesperson for Toyota claims rollovers are a rare event and that “the number of rollover claims by Mr. Biller pending at this time is many times less than the number claimed by Mr. Biller.” Toyota has since filed to prevent Biller from disclosing what it believes are attorney-client privileges on the website of the consulting group Biller opened after he left Toyota.

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  1. Irv Miller says:
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    Toyota is committed to the highest standards of product quality and safety, and we fully stand behind the structural integrity of all our vehicles and their adherence to federal safety regulations. We maintain the highest professional and ethical standards in our legal practices as well.

    Recent lawsuits filed against Toyota by Dimitrios Biller, Todd Tracy and Richard McCune are based on inaccurate and misleading allegations made by Mr. Biller. As our court papers in the Biller case make clear, we strongly dispute his unfounded claims. After careful review of these allegations, we are confident that we have acted appropriately with respect to product liability litigation. Toyota has initiated proceedings against Mr. Biller, and we intend to defend against the Biller, Tracy and McCune claims vigorously.

    Contrary to Mr. Biller’s claims, Toyota vehicles are all carefully and rigorously tested, and are all engineered to meet or exceed the high standards set by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), which is the global leader in motor vehicle safety. Among the many inaccuracies in his lawsuit, Mr. Biller has grossly mischaracterized Toyota’s reporting to NHTSA. His accusations that Toyota misled NHTSA regarding roof crush strength standards are completely false. Contrary to his claims, there has never been any question about the completeness and accuracy of the information we have provided to product safety regulators.

    The facts of the NHTSA situation cited by Mr. Biller are as follows. In August of 2005, NHTSA announced proposed changes to Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard (FMVSS) 216 and requested voluntary comments from interested parties. Toyota provided one comment to the Alliance of Automotive Manufacturers (AAM), which hired outside consultants to prepare its response on behalf of its members, which include 11 carmakers including GM, Ford and Chrysler. Toyota was not required to provide input and did not respond directly to NHTSA. Furthermore, NHTSA performs its own independent vehicle tests as it ultimately decides on new safety rules.

    Mr. Biller also exaggerates the incidence of roll-over litigation involving Toyota vehicles. In fact, Toyota vehicles have an excellent safety record relative to the millions of cars on the road. While a roll-over accident can be severe, with 27 million Toyota vehicles currently in operation, roll-overs are a rare event.

    Biller’s actions and the timing of his lawsuit do not support his claim that he is motivated by the public interest. Rather, his actions are driven to advance his own personal financial interests and a desire to damage Toyota and his former colleagues. Biller did not resign from Toyota because of ethics concerns. In making his demand for a severance package he held open his option to return to work at Toyota as an attorney. He was fully responsible for managing the cases cited in his lawsuit but he did not take any action at the time that would be consistent with his concerns.

    Biller has a history of suing his former employers, as well as attorneys who represented him, accusing them of conspiracy against him. Biller was terminated from his position with the Los Angeles District Attorney (LADA) and subsequently sued the LADA (case 2:09-cv-03079-GHK-RZ) for $50 million on the grounds that his colleagues were conspiring to have him fired. He has also sued the attorney who represented him against Toyota (Los Angeles Superior Court, Santa Monica Division, Biller vs. Faber). In court papers related to these suits, Mr. Biller claims he is disabled and has suffered from organic brain disease “for most of his life.”

    In November, 2008 Toyota filed a lawsuit against Biller to stop his use of Toyota case studies and other confidential or proprietary information in seminars and on the website of his legal education business, in clear violation of confidentiality agreements and attorney-client privilege. This suit and its related restraining order have nothing to do with his false claims regarding the conduct of product liability cases and Biller cannot claim that Toyota ever sued him to stop the disclosures he is making now.

    Toyota agreed to a severance package for Mr. Biller in order to avoid the time and expense associated with his unsubstantiated allegations. Such agreements are not unusual in cases of highly compensated individuals who have had access to confidential and proprietary information. Toyota acted honorably in seeking a mutually acceptable separation, but ultimately it was a mistake because Biller did not honor his agreement.

    We are disappointed that Mr. Biller has elected to file his lawsuit in an attempt to avoid what we believe are his obligations as an attorney formerly employed by Toyota. In our view, Mr. Biller has repeatedly breached his ethical and professional obligations, both as an attorney and in his commitments to us, by violating attorney-client privilege without legitimate cause.

    Toyota has filed a motion to seal Biller’s complaint and its exhibits despite Biller’s public disclosures. Toyota does not seek to hide the complaint or the exhibits; however the legal process requires it to make this request of the court to avoid jeopardizing its defense.