Toyota Motor Sales has retracted a statement it made in the Biller matter, a multi-million dollar dispute with former Toyota attorney Dimitrios Biller, who is charging the Japanese company with attempting to thwart the U.S. legal system.
It was the latest troubling development in a troubling case, which will likely drag on for a long time.
Biller, the former National Managing Counsel in charge of Toyota’s National Rollover Program, worked as a lawyer for TMS from 2003 to 2007. He has a prior history of suing an employer, including a prosecutor’s office in California.
Biller’s legal complaint filed in U.S. District Court in Los Angeles claims that Toyota had suppressed evidence in hundreds of lawsuits resulting from rollover accidents involving the Toyota vehicles – charges Toyota denies.
One of Biller’s allegations was that Toyota lied to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) about roof crush information. In a rollover accident, the strength of the roof can determine whether or not occupants survive.
In response, Toyota initially said that it had not replied to directly to NHTSA on roof crush data; rather it was part of a submission by a larger auto industry lobbying group.
“The facts of the NHTSA situation cited by Mr. Biller are as follows. In August of 2005, NHTSA announced proposed changes to Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard (FMVSS) 216 and requested voluntary comments from interested parties. Toyota provided one comment to the Alliance of Automotive Manufacturers (AAM), which hired outside consultants to prepare its response on behalf of its members, which include 11 carmakers including GM, Ford and Chrysler. Toyota was not required to provide input and did not respond directly to NHTSA. Furthermore, NHTSA performs its own independent vehicle tests as it ultimately decides on new safety rules.”
Well, that isn’t true. Toyota now says:
“Toyota’s initial comments regarding Mr. Biller’s allegations included an incorrect statement regarding Toyota’s comments directly to NHTSA.”
Therefore, Toyota did respond to NHTSA.
Just how far your eyebrows should go up is not yet clear.
Biller claims Toyota tampered with data in an attempt to mislead NHTSA. (For years, the auto industry argued that it was impossible to tell if an occupant was injured in a rollover by slipping out of position or having the collapsing roof hit the occupant. This is now moot, as NHTSA has issued a new safety standard that roughly doubles roof strength.)
So, attention will turn to the rest of Biller’s charges. Did Toyota try to mislead NHTSA?
Toyota is saying, “Toyota did not mislead NHTSA, did not hire an outside consultant to prepare an engineering report, did not hire a second outside consultant to change a prior engineering report, and that Mr. Biller’s allegations are unfounded.”
Eventually both sides will have their day in court.