A Dallas lawyer has refiled 16 accident suits against Toyota, while the automaker has spoken up to defend itself against the publicity surrounding a former in-house lawyer's contentions that the company withheld and destroyed rollover evidence.
Todd Tracy grouped 16 rollover, frontal-impact and rear-impact complaints in one suit refiled on Tuesday against Toyota in U.S. District Court in Marshall, Texas. He said he also may refile some of the 40 other suits he had previously filed across the United States.
The 16 suits were either dismissed or settled. Tracy said last week that the alleged duplicity by Toyota could lead to the reopening of many lawsuits against the company.
Whistleblower, wrongful discharge suits
Tracy's actions followed a suit filed this summer in U.S. District Court in Los Angeles by former Toyota Motor Corp. lawyer Dimitrios Biller.
In his suit against Toyota, Biller alleges Toyota did not heed his urgings to disclose all evidence useful for rollover suits or National Highway Traffic Safety Administration regulations.
Biller's suit alleges wrongful discharge from Toyota in 2007 and contends his conflict with the automaker has caused continued depression and post-traumatic stress disorder. Those conditions have made him unable to hold a job, the suit says.
Toyota says Biller resigned and received a $3.7 million severance package.
Biller's suit says: “As an attorney, Biller had no option but to resign from his employment because (Toyota) would not comply with the law.”
‘Inaccurate and misleading allegations'
Last week, Toyota said Biller's suit contains “inaccurate and misleading allegations” and accused him of breaching attorney-client privilege and nondisclosure elements of his severance contract.
On Tuesday, the automaker issued a longer statement meant to counter Biller's claims.
For instance, Biller's suit alleges Toyota withheld from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration a report that showed the automaker could adjust to new roof strength standards within NHTSA's desired time frame. Instead, the suit says, Toyota ordered a differing report delivered to NHTSA through “a legislative lobbying group.”
But Toyota spokesman Mike Michels said Biller's accusations are inaccurate because Toyota responded to NHTSA only through one comment given to the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers. The Alliance sought at least one outside study itself, but Toyota did not order a study, he said.
Biller's suit also accuses the automaker of hiding information that Toyota should have produced in more than 300 rollover accidents involving roof-crush issues.
Toyota sued Biller in November 2008, seeking to stop him from using company information in seminars he was hosting or on his consulting firm's Web site. That suit is pending.
Matter of public record
Biller contends much of the information he uses in a matter of public record.
Toyota has sought to seal Biller's case, making documents unavailable for public viewing. Said Michels: “If we do not ask the court to seal, then we waive a considerable amount of our legal right if we have to defend the case.”
Biller also has filed a suit in federal court in Los Angeles against his most recent employer, Los Angeles County. Biller worked for the county district attorney's office for a few months in 2008.
He alleges the county wrongfully terminated him and discriminated against him because of his depression and dyslexia. The county acknowledges it fired Biller after a negative evaluation, but denies his allegations.