According to the chairman of a congressional committee, Toyota Motor Corp. “deliberately withheld” evidence in personal injury suits related to vehicle safety, exhibiting a “systematic disregard for the law.”
Internal documents released by the committee on February 26 say Toyota created “secret electronic ‘Books of Knowledge’” which included information about design problems, yet never disclosed their existence during the suits.
The allegations made by Rep. Edolphus Towns (D-New York), the head of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, came two days after the chief executive of Toyota appeared before Congress to apologize for the automaker’s handling of the sudden acceleration issue.
In a three-page letter sent to Yoshimi Inaba, the top official for Toyota in the U.S., a review of company documents the committee obtained from Dimitrios Biller, a former Toyota attorney who handed product liability suits, is detailed. The committee recently subpoenaed some 6,000 documents from Biller.
Toyota released a statement saying that the company “takes its legal obligations seriously,” but that it is not uncommon “for companies to object to certain demands for documents made in litigation.” The automaker says that it is confident that it acted appropriately in the suits.
Towns claims the documents reveal a concerted plan by the company to hide potentially damaging internal documents from plaintiffs’ attorneys in personal injury suits, particularly in rollover cases, which were Biller’s specialty.
In the letter, Towns wrote, “People injured in crashes involving Toyota vehicles may have been injured a second time when Toyota failed to produce relevant evidence in court.” He demanded a response from Inaba by March 5.
In Towns’ letter to Inaba, who also testified before the Oversight committee on February 24, he claims there was a willful pattern of hiding electronic records in litigation. He also questions whether that is a reflection of the company’s attitude toward compliance.
Towns says that the documents provided by Biller also raise concerns over whether Toyota has also been withholding information from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, which regulates auto safety.
Though the focus of the majority of Biller’s documents is rollover cases instead of unintended acceleration, they do speak to the company’s general handing of safety disclosure issues and potentially lift a veil on what Rep. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.) called a “culture of secrecy” at Toyota.