Congress Accuses Toyota Of Deliberately Withholding Documents

Last week, the House Committee on Oversight & Government Reform issued a subpoena for documents from former Toyota lawyer Dimitrios Biller as part of their investigation into exactly when the car giant knew about possible defects in their now-recalled vehicles. And now that they have their hands on Mr. Biller’s papers, they are accusing Toyota of deliberately holding back important information.

“We have reviewed these documents and found evidence that Toyota deliberately withheld relevant electronic records that it was legally required to produce in response to discovery orders in litigation,” Congressman Ed Towns wrote Friday in a letter to Toyota North America chief Yoshimi Inaba. “Many of these documents concern ‘rollover’ cases in which the plaintiff was injured. I am writing to request that you personally review these records and provide a response to these allegations.”
 
Congressman Towns points to a document dated Sept. 1, 2005, entitled “A Serious Need to Get Documents/E-Discovery From TMC,” in which Biller voiced his concern over Toyota’s failure to produce electronic documents in litigation.

While researching a case for Toyota, Mr. Biller discovered a computer database called “MIK” that included information about “design problems” and “countermeasures used to resolve issues.” The data held in the MIK “is downloaded by TTC [Toyota Technical Center] into secret electronic ‘Books of Knowledge.’”
 
Mr. Biller’s concern was that, in spite of its existence and accessibility, the MIK information had “never been produced in litigation… Clearly, this information should have been produced in litigation before today.”

In the memo, Biller concludes that Toyota “is clearly not producing all of the relevant information/documents in its possession… We need to start preserving, collecting and producing e-mails and electronic discovery.”
 
However, not only were these Books of Knowledge never produced in litigation, the documents obtained from Biller appear to indicate that Toyota later agreed to multi-million dollar settlements for fear that the Books of Knowledge would be discovered. 
 
Biller describes in an e-mail from Dec. 2006 how one of the prime reasons for agreeing to a $1.5 million settlement in one rollover case was to prevent disclosure of the Books of Knowledge.

“This case is particularly appalling, in that the victim, Penny Green, was a healthy young woman who was rendered a quadriplegic in the rollover of a Toyota vehicle,” writes Towns in his letter to Mr. Inaba.
 
Regarding the level of Toyota’s influence on NHTSA, Congressman Towns says that the documents also indicate that Mr. Biller “was concerned that Toyota’s interactions with NHTSA would be discovered.” He points to an e-mail from Nov. 2006, wherein Mr. Biller writes that a plaintiff’s lawyer had “learned about the substantial involvement of TMC with NHTSA and how TMC communicates with NHTSA via TMA and the Alliance.” 
 
On the topic of sudden unintended acceleration, a Biller e-mail from 2005 — two years before the earliest floor mat recalls — states that “no one was surprised” by a threatened lawsuit on the matter.
 
“This issue [sudden unintended acceleration] had been the subject of a number of meetings and the exchange of a number of documents between TMS and TMC… and the possibility of a class action lawsuit was used as one way to try to get TMC to work on a series of proposed countermeasures.”
 
In his letter to Inaba, Towns writes:

In sum, the Biller documents indicate a systematic disregard for the law and routine violation of court discovery orders in litigation. 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.

To aid in our investigation of these and related issues, please respond to the following questions:
 
1. What steps did Toyota take to address the concerns expressed by Mr. Biller in his September 1, 2005 memorandum regarding the need to produce relevant electronic records, including the Books of Knowledge?
 
2. Has Toyota disclosed the existence of the Books of Knowledge to NHTSA? If so, when and under what circumstances?
 
3. When did Toyota begin producing all relevant electronic documents in response to discovery requests in tort cases?
 
4. Have the Books of Knowledge been produced in response to discovery requests in litigation? If so, please list the cases in which they have been disclosed. If not, please explain why they have not been disclosed.
 
5. If it is true that the Books of Knowledge and other relevant electronic records were not produced in the course of litigation as required, will Toyota petition to reopen all closed cases so that the relevant evidence may be considered?

Towns requests that Mr. Inaba respond to these queries by noon on March 12.

Start the clock, boys….