By on August 30, 2009

According to CBS News, an ex-lawyer for Toyota of North America has filed a racketeering suit against his former employer. ToMoCo’s former managing counsel Dimitrios P. Biller accused the automaker of illegally withholding evidence in hundreds of rollover death and injury cases, in a “ruthless conspiracy” to suppress evidence of its vehicles “structural shortcomings.” Further, “Biller’s 75-page complaint [download pdf here] says that when he came to Toyota after nearly 15 years in private practice, he was ‘surprised and alarmed’ to discover that the company was not producing e-mails and other electronically stored information to plaintiffs as he said was required. According to the lawsuit, Biller repeatedly complained to supervisors that the company was illegally withholding evidence. The lawsuit further states that the resulting conflicts ultimately caused Biller to suffer a mental breakdown and led to his forced resignation in September 2007. He left with a $3.7 million severance agreement, court records show.” [thanks to Dennis for the link]

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31 Comments on “Ex-Toyota Lawyer Accuses Automaker of Destroying Rollover Evidence...”


  • avatar
    John Horner

    A large company using every means at its disposal to hide incriminating evidence? I’m shocked, just shocked!

    Mitsubishi went down hard in Japan back in 2000 for hiding evidence of defects. At least one executive went to jail. Mitsubishi has never recovered from that debacle.

    http://www2.ljworld.com/news/2000/aug/23/mitsubishi_admits_hiding/

  • avatar
    Runfromcheney

    John Horner:

    I think that explains why Mitsubishi went from a major player to an obscure also-ran in only a decade.

  • avatar
    taxman100

    Yawn – another “former” employee suing their old employer.

    It happens hundreds of times a day in this country – a result of too many ambulance chasers with nothing constructive to do.

  • avatar
    RobertSD

    Hey, it sounds like Ford and their Explorer debacle! I mean, who would have thought that a 2-2.5 ton vehicle sitting nearly a foot off the ground would be susceptible to rollover. And who would have thought that 1.5x roof crush standards would hardly protect a passenger when said vehicle finally did the deed. And behold, the disgruntled employee is the one outing them – much like the “experts” called in Explorer cases.

    I guess destroying docs and withholding evidence is illegal, but it’s not like they were forcing unwanted 9-yo Chinese girls to build the Prius in Japan… or were they…??

  • avatar
    MBella

    Is there any automaker CBS won’t try to kill?

  • avatar
    John Horner

    ” … a result of too many ambulance chasers with nothing constructive to do.”

    Have you spent much time inside the upper reaches of the corporate world? If not, you might be surprised just how much shady and downright illegal activity goes on there which never sees the light of day.

  • avatar
    holydonut

    Huh, it looks like Dimitrios used to do class-action suits against big companies. Makes you wonder why Toyota would ever hire the guy into their legal counsel.

  • avatar
    Astute Observer

    taxman100, you apparently are unaware that the lawsuits by private attorneys are really the only pressure against illegal corporate actions. Oh, you think the government is going to protect you? Right. Without private enforcement, the individual is left with no protection. Don’t forget that we really live in a facist state, i.e., where corporations and government are married against the common good.

  • avatar
    pnnyj

    Question: Is a “managing counsel” a senior enough position to merit a $3.7 million severance or does that large amount of money suggest that there’s more to that story?

    I know senior executives often walk away with ludicrous amounts of money but that usually only happens way up at the top, middle managers don’t often get huge severance agreements.

  • avatar
    VerbalKint

    A lawyer named Biller. I love it. And he left the company because of mental breakdown and a $3.7M jackpot. No mention of moral outrage when he took the 3,700,000 pieces of silver though.

  • avatar
    CyCarConsulting

    There are millions of Toyotas on the road along with millions of bad drivers. Do the math.

    I’m going back to driving my Suzuki Samurai if all these other cars are unsafe.

  • avatar
    Detroit Todd

    “…to suborn evidence of its vehicles…”

    They withheld or even surpressed evidence. They did not “suborn” it.

    They could have suborned their associate attorneys to withhold or surpress evidence. But they did not suborn the evidence.

    I know, I know. But it grates. ;)

  • avatar
    mikey

    Being the number one auto maker in the world,does
    come with a downside.

  • avatar

    Detroit Todd

    Sorry about that chief. Text amended.

  • avatar
    GS650G

    Without private enforcement, the individual is left with no protection.

    Wrong. The individual votes with his wallet. Witness the carnage in Detroit as example.

    Why do you think people are not buying domestic brands any longer?

    The consumer punishes longer and harder than any lawsuit ever could.

  • avatar
    PeteMoran

    What emails are these? “I bought a high riding SUV/Truck because everyone says they are safer and it rolled over!” Brilliant.

  • avatar
    RogerB34

    The confused lawyer had a duty to protect Toyota and not the plantiff. The duty to protect the plantiff was the plantiff’s lawyer.

  • avatar
    Justin Berkowitz

    taxman100 :

    Yawn – another “former” employee suing their old employer.

    It happens hundreds of times a day in this country – a result of too many ambulance chasers with nothing constructive to do.

    I agree lots of disgruntled people sue ex-employers without merit.

    But it’s really unfair to say that since he’s an ex-employee, his claim must be without merit. Big (and small) companies do lots of bad stuff all the time.

    We don’t know the facts of the case. In fact, I don’t think they’ve even had discovery yet. Maybe this guy is looking for a buck and has a lawyer eager to collect his 30%. On the other hand, maybe Toyota really did do bad things, and this guy has standing to sue them.

    Not to bring politics into it (ugh) but this sort of thinking — automatically disbelieve anyone who could have an axe to grind — is why nobody even bothered to read Richard Clarke’s book or Tom Ridge’s book.

  • avatar
    RGS920

    “The confused lawyer had a duty to protect Toyota and not the plantiff. The duty to protect the plantiff was the plantiff’s lawyer.”

    That’s complete bullshit. A lawyer is an officer of the court first and foremost. That means that he had an ethical obligation once he found out that Toyota was destroying evidence to confront his employer and tell them that what they are doing is illegal and if they do not reverse course immediately and remedy the situation he will be forced to resign (do to a conflict of interest) and alert the appropriate government agency.

    Let me simplify it even further. If your attorney were to find out that you were going to rob a liquor store next Monday; your attorney has an ethical obligation to call the police and notify them that you are going to commit a crime.

    I would suspect that this lawyer had a nervous breakdown because he didn’t have the balls to confront Toyota that what they were doing was illegal. If he knew that his client was destroying evidence and he was complacent in this he should lose his license if he sat and did nothing with this information until months or years later.

  • avatar
    ohsnapback

    Anyone who thinks they’d have ANY protection if it weren’t for attorneys is completely ignorant of the absolute power and corruption of giant multinational corporations.

    They’d kill you and your children without batting an eye if it contributed to the bottom line of executive bonuses and corporate profits.

  • avatar
    FreedMike

    It would appear from the CBS story that the main Toyota product in question was the 4Runner.

    Shocking.

    The corporate world and its shills in the right-wing punditocracy would have you believe that companies will regulate themselves in matters like this without those pesky lawyers. And people who are naive enough to buy what the right wing punditocracy says would have you believe that companies that transgress like this get “punished” in the marketplace.

    Get real. If not for those bad old trial lawyers, this problem would have never seen the light of day. And as far as “being punished in the marketplace” is concerned – these suits were filed in 2007. Has Toyota gone out of business? Hell, they haven’t even stopped making the 4Runner.

    There are cases of corporate malfeasance so disgusting – the case of Alaska Airlines deciding to cheap out on maintenance to save a few bucks, and a MD-80 crashing as a result – that the only way to bring justice to those wronged is either a) hard time for all the people involved, or b) lawsuits.

    And it’s funny how the “tort reform now!” crowd doesn’t mention jail time as a remedy, isn’t it?

  • avatar
    FreedMike

    ohsnapback :
    August 31st, 2009 at 1:07 am

    Anyone who thinks they’d have ANY protection if it weren’t for attorneys is completely ignorant of the absolute power and corruption of giant multinational corporations.

    They’d kill you and your children without batting an eye if it contributed to the bottom line of executive bonuses and corporate profits.

    I wouldn’t go that far – cases like these are actually the exception, not the norm. But when cases like this DO happen, they’re so disgusting that they ruin things for the honest players.

    Nevertheless, it’s clear to me that we can’t count on corporations to regulate themselves when it comes to safety.

  • avatar
    maniceightball

    There’s a surprising number of corporate sympathizers here.

    Justin Berkowitz is on the ball. This guy could very well be an “ambulance chaser” and probably is just looking to cash in, but if what he says is true, then what difference does it make? It’s at least worth it to see how it plays out before making a judgement call.

  • avatar
    Kurt.

    “I think that explains why Mitsubishi went from a major player to an obscure also-ran in only a decade”

    I thought it was becasue of it’s involvement with Chrysler…

  • avatar
    Hellcakes

    Question: Is a “managing counsel” a senior enough position to merit a $3.7 million severance or does that large amount of money suggest that there’s more to that story?

    Managing counsel is like a manager for lawyers; it’s pretty high up, but not that high. $3.7 million is enough “shut up and go away” money to buy off someone at that level who can harm the company’s reputation but not enough for someone who knows enough to land VIPs in court or make the company lose a bunch of lawsuits.

    If you read the complaint, it looks like the ‘ruthlessly suppressed evidence’ basically amounted to an ongoing dispute over how much email needed to be turned over during discovery. This doesn’t necessarily mean actual wrongdoing – the discovery rules in this country place all the costs and complications of this on the defense and corporations generate a LOT of email, so a broad enough demand from the plaintiff’s lawyers can turn into hundreds of hours of work by legal professionals; it’s a big reason why ‘nuisance settlements’ in this country run into 6 figures and why all the big corporations have lengthy policies on the retention schedule of email. The rules on this used to be quite vague, as well.

    There are a couple of instances of actual relevant information being withheld during discovery in the complaint, but they’re pretty trivial. The biggest one seems to be that Toyota lied about the existence of an internal standard where vehicles were supposed to beat the federal roof crush test by 20%, but ‘your cars only beat the regs by 10 or 15%’ isn’t especially damaging. The litigation is quite old, also.

    I’m guessing this guy had an actual breakdown that screwed up his career and he’s trying to raise some cash. It doesn’t look like he’s doing too well; he’s gone back into plaintiff representation, but his website doesn’t mention any successes since leaving Toyota and the Calendar for his seminars include such important topics as ‘srgdsrg’ and ‘aefaesf’. Not a good sign.

  • avatar
    nudave

    Mental anguish and “only” 3.7 million?

    Life’s a bitch, ain’t it?

  • avatar

    # John Horner :
    August 30th, 2009 at 7:06 pm

    ” … a result of too many ambulance chasers with nothing constructive to do.”

    Have you spent much time inside the upper reaches of the corporate world? If not, you might be surprised just how much shady and downright illegal activity goes on there which never sees the light of day.

    Sorry, but the trial lawyers’ trope that they’re fighting big bad corporations is just more PR, like Geoffrey Feiger’s TV ads. Lawyers gave $233 million dollars to (80% Democratic) politicians in 2008, and they apparently have more political power than anyone else. Howard Dean the other day acknowledged that there’s no tort reform because lawyers control/own the Democratic party.

    If more than 1/3 of Congress members were doctors and they were dragging their feet on some kind of health care issue, the conflict of interest would be obvious but with lawyers we ignore it.

    I don’t know if I’ve “spent much time inside the upper reaches of the corporate world”. I worked for DuPont Automotive/Performance Coatings for 21 years at a fairly low level but because of a quirk in how the company was structured and what SBU I worked for, through line management I was only a handful of people removed from the CEO. Our SBU was the only DuPont unit with its HQ outside of Wilmington so we had some high level folks on site. I reported to my first line supervisor, who reported to a group supervisor, who reported to the lab manager who reported to the site manager who happened to be a senior vp of DuPont. The last 6 years I was there I did IT support, including network management. For much of that time I was the main IT technical resource for the site so I ended up working directly with just about everyone on site. Executives like special treatment from the IT folks, so I spent a fair amount of time in the senior VP’s office, as well as with other execs. While I wasn’t privy to their deliberations and machinations (though if I wanted to snoop, as network mgr I had access to all files on the site’s servers), I did work with a few high level executives at a very large corporation and I never witnessed any kind of ethical violations or illegal activity. Sure, people are people and companies do all sorts of stupid shit, but the Hollywood stereotype of wicked greedy corporate types is far from reality. Executives are just like everyone else, doing a job. Some are ethical and some are gonifs.

    From my perspective, corporations are politically correct. They are usually not conservative or libertarian in a political sense, but rather focused on whatever will earn profit. Certainly the HR departments follow left wing political trends in terms of diversity and gender stuff. From my perspective, I see plenty of liberal rich guys who own big companies. Progressive insurance is owned by a big Dem contributor, and Warren Buffett and George Soros are hardly right wingers.

    Before I did IT, I managed all the waste from the lab on site. It was, at the time, one of two large DuPont automotive paint R&D facilities in the US, with over 400 employees, so the waste streams were significant, thousands of gallons of solvent and water borne paint wastes, wipers and similar paint contaminated waste, solid recyclables like aluminum, steel, and plastic test panels and paint cans. I think the still we operated recycled about 200 gallons of wash solvent a day. Waste included both non-hazardous and hazardous (a legal definition) materials.

    The company was absolutely committed to disposing all that in an environmentally appropriate manner. Waste is terribly expensive and the company was genuinely committed to eliminating waste. Disposing of a pallet of off-spec water borne paint costs more than the $600/barrel disposal fee at a cement kiln, and the costs of paying me and operational costs of the site’s waste facilities. There’s the cost of making the stuff, including capital investments. Did we destroy everything to 6 nines? No, but we absolutely complied with all EPA and Michigan environmental laws.

    The risk was way too high. If you screw up the paperwork on a normal shipment of hazardous materials, the fine can be $25,000 from DOT. If you screw up the paperwork on a shipment of hazardous waste, the fines can be more than $1,000,000 from the EPA. No emergencies I dealt with in IT, which could have some serious business implications, approached the seriousness of dealing with the regs I had to deal with when managing waste.

    Companies aren’t saintly, but I never saw anything illegal going on at DuPont.

  • avatar
    chuckR

    Early in the 20th century, Henry Ford paid his workers an outlandish daily wage. He needed them not only to build his unsafe at any speed Model T, but also to purchase and use it. The level of risk using automobiles was apparently acceptable and became much lower in the next century of refinements. Corporations depend on not killing people (Lockheed-Martin and General Dynamics excepted) – difficult to sell product in graveyards.

    Compare and contrast to governments, who, by some accounts, in aggregate killed 280 million of their own people last century.

    Let’s see whether Toyota’s failure was one of not meeting their own high standards or something more nefarious. As for saving every email, every piece of paper, every thought, only the law industry can make product and make money doing that. A reasonable level of documentation and paper trail is necessary, but if I can’t produce a piece of paper or an e-document, the lawyers will yell spoliation even if it never existed. Damned no matter what.

  • avatar
    mikey

    @ chuckR Henry got tired of retraining people. Ol’e Hank figured five bucks a day was a better plan.

    Think of it as a retention bonus, minus a few zeros.

  • avatar
    njdave

    +1 to Ronnie Schreiber.
    The worst liars are those class action lawsuit lawyers always advertising on TV. I know – I was a plaintiff in one of those suits. It was about a stock I bought when the CEO & CFO cooked the books. I lost thousands and after “my” lawyer won a lawsuit for “me”, I got 23 dollars. The lawyer got 16 million dollars. Yep, that lawyer was really looking out for us small investors doing his utmost to protect our interests. He was worse than the CEO and CFO of the company that took my money and thousands of other peoples money too. At least they were just crooks, they didn’t pretend to be helping me. To be fair even though I don’t want to be fair, at least I didn’t have to do anything but sign my name for the 23 bucks. They found me, mailed me a letter and a form already filled in. I just had to sign it and send it back to get my windfall. Lawyers rarely help society, and the lawyers in congress and the senate write legislation so arcane that only other lawyers can understand it, so that only extremely wealthy people who can afford the best tax attorneys can benefit. Congress writes a bill that lets them claim that they are only taxing the rich, but they add loopholes that only the rich with tax attorneys can afford to take advantage of (and congress members themselves, of course). Then the middle class ends up paying big when the tax on “the rich” doesn’t raise the revenue they predicted. And people keep falling for that scam, over and over. They are falling for it again right now.

  • avatar
    DearS

    My friend was telling me about putting his 4runner on two wheels the other day. I’ve been scared of SUVs for a long time, and I intend to be careful driving them fast. The Fat tires on my moms skinny Montero sport scare me a bit, so I’ll be careful with that first.


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