Oh my, what a feeling.
It seems that the hills overlooking downtown Los Angeles aren’t the only things burning in Southern California right now. So is Toyota’s image.
The fallout had barely settled down around Toyota’s announcement last Friday that it planned to halt production at New United Motors Manufacturing Incorporated in Fremont, California, across the bay from San Francisco when the Japanese automaker was rocked by a lawsuit filed at the other end of California.
The legal complaint filed in U.S. District Court In Los Angeles claims that Toyota had suppressed evidence in hundreds of lawsuits spawned by rollover type accidents involving the Toyota vehicles.
Of course, lawsuits against automakers are common, but this particular story had one spectacular twist — it was filed on behalf of an Southern California attorney, one Dimitrios Biller, who worked for Toyota at headquarters in Torrance, California for four years from 2003 and 2007.
Toyota’s lawyers have already gone to court to try to get the suit sealed off from public views by having the court record sealed, claiming the plaintiff has violated attorney-client privilege.
Biller and his attorneys, however, have temporarily outflanked Toyota’s defense by carefully leaking the lawsuit to the investigative unit at CBS News, insuring that the initial complaint got plenty of attention in the media around the country.
In his suit, Biller claims that Toyota failed to disclose information sought by plaintiff’s in lawsuits in Texas and Colorado. Toyota’s engineers were not allowed to provide relevant information that should have been turned over to comply with the subpoenas issued by the plaintiff’s attorneys.
Toyota says the charges as inaccurate and misleading. It also says it works to uphold the highest ethical and professional standards.
However, the charges come at an unfortunate moment for the loss-making Japanese automaker. Toyota is seeking to protect its image and reputation from the fallout over the shutdown of the NUMMI plant, which could lead to the elimination of some 30,000 jobs across California, according to Toyota’s critics.
It is also in the midst of paring millions of units of production from its worldwide capacity of 10 million. In addition, Toyota is conducting a recall to prevent brake failures, which the National Highway traffic Safety Administration announced this morning.
With the lawsuit, recall and production cutbacks, a steady stream of bad news appears guaranteed.