WASHINGTON -- Toyota Motor Corp. “deliberately withheld relevant electronic records” that it was legally required to produce in lawsuits over SUV rollover accidents, the chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee said today.
Rep. Ed Towns, D-N.Y, said in a letter to the automaker that a review of documents subpoenaed from former Toyota lawyer Dimitrios Biller also shows Toyota may have “withheld substantial, relevant information” from federal regulators.
Toyota responded by saying it has "acted appropriately."
The documents show Toyota kept records that contained design and testing data across all vehicle lines and parts, said Towns, whose panel held one of the two House hearings this week on unintended acceleration in Toyota vehicles.
Toyota avoided revealing the existence of the so-called books of knowledge by agreeing to multi-million-dollar settlements in cases in which they feared the plaintiffs were closing in on discovery of the electronic records, the lawmaker said.
"It is not uncommon," Toyota spokeswoman Cindy Knight said, "for companies to object to certain demands for documents made in litigation. Consistent with that
philosophy, we take appropriate steps to maintain the confidentiality of competitive business information and trade secrets.
"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'
In one case involving plaintiff Penny Green, the documents from Biller show that a major reason Toyota agreed to a $1.5 million settlement was to prevent disclosure of the books of knowledge, the letter said.
Green became a quadriplegic after the rollover of her Toyota vehicle, Towns said in his letter.
"The Biller documents indicate a systematic disregard for the law and routine violation of court discovery orders in litigation," the letter said.
Towns said the evidence also raised concerns about Toyota's handling of unintended acceleration suits.
Biller expressed concerns in the documents about Toyota's apparent failure to collect and produce relevant evidence in a particular acceleration case.
Towns asked Toyota Motor North America CEO Yoshimi Inaba whether the books of knowledge have ever been disclosed either in litigation or to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
If these records have not been provided, the letter asked whether Toyota would petition to reopen all closed lawsuits so that they can be considered.
Biller worked at Toyota's U.S. headquarters in Torrance, Calif., managing rollover cases from 2003 to 2007.
Earlier this month, Toyota won a temporary court injunction barring Biller from releasing internal documents that he had.
The House committee, in subpoenaing the documents, said its subpoena trumped the partial preliminary injunction.
Biller has about 6,000 Toyota documents in four, 18-inch bank boxes, his lawyer, Jeffrey Allen, has said.