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Towns Claims Toyota Withheld Rollover Data

Legal woes expand, again, at the beleaguered Japanese maker.

by on Feb.27, 2010

Is Inaba caught in a potential legal trap and the crossfire of Congressional elections?

Edolphus Towns (D-NY) said yesterday that a review of documents obtained under subpoena from a former lawyer at Toyota indicate that Toyota “deliberately withheld records” it was legally required to produce in response to discovery orders in litigation.

Where these latest charges lead is not immediately clear – and this matter is already subject to contentious litigation in California. However, without doubt this  complicates the tarnished quality  image and very real legal troubles that Toyota faces with respect to its handling of safety matters.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is also looking at whether Toyota acted according to U.S. law while recalling six million Toyota and Lexus vehicles in the United States after it became aware of problems with the sticking accelerator pedals and uncontrolled vehicles. The vehicles in question have been subject to several, ever widening, recalls since last fall, and at least 34 deaths are now, alleged, to have resulted from Toyota safety defects in the U.S.

Many of the documents in question, which Towns in his press release did not provide, apparently contain specific comments on  tragic “rollover” cases in which a driver or passenger was injured, including cases where victims were paralyzed.

The former Toyota lawyer in question, Dimitrios Biller, was Managing Counsel in the Product Liability Group of Toyota Motor Sales, USA (TMS), from April 2003 to September 2007.

In this position, Mr. Biller was part of the defense of some of the largest tort cases filed against Toyota, including “rollover” cases involving dead or seriously injured victims.

Viewers of TheDetroitBureau.com might recall that we reported at length last year, that Dimitrios Biller, the attorney involved in Toyota’s rollover litigation from 2003 to 2007 has a troubling prior history of suing employers, including the prosecutor’s office in California, where he also once worked before being dismissed. (Click here, and here.)

Congressman Towns, who – never ever forget – is up for re-election at a time when voters are clearly exasperated with ineffectual incumbents for their lack of action on financial regulation, fiscal responsibility and job creation, among other policy failures, subpoenaed Biller’s documents on Thursday, February 18, 2010 before the well-publicized hearing he chaired took place on February 24.

Former Toyota attorney Biller claims in his own separate and ongoing Federal fraud and racketeering case against Toyota in California that information had been withheld from accident victims in as many as 300 civil lawsuits.

Included in the cited — but we repeat unsupplied documents-  is apparently a memo by Biller to his superiors at Toyota, noting that Toyota has failed to produce any e-mails or other electronic records in response to discovery orders.

Toyota has succesfully suppressed the full release of Biller matter documents in a California Federal court.

The Towns’ Committee now officially says it has found multiple references to heretofore-unknown “Books of Knowledge” that were kept electronically, in which Toyota engineers kept their design and testing data across all vehicle lines and for all vehicle parts.   (more…)

Horror of Saylor Fatal Lexus Accident Reviewed at Opening of Congressional Hearing

Toyota and NHTSA excoriated for “troubling patterns” of ignoring safety. Toyota unintended acceleration unresolved.

by on Feb.24, 2010

“If Camry and Prius were airplanes they would be grounded,” said Towns.

Committee chairman Edolphus Towns opened his Toyota safety hearings today with harsh words:  “NHTSA failed the taxpayers. Toyota failed their customers – we now have 39 deaths attributed to Toyota products,” said Towns.

“If Camry and Prius were airplanes they would be grounded,” said Towns.

Department of Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said that  any of the Toyota vehicles subject to recall “are not safe.”

“If your car is listed take it to the dealer to get it fixed,” said LaHood.

Toyota’s recalls – thus far – address  five separate Toyota product safety issues. In total, some 5.3 million Toyota vehicles across 14 model lines  are affected by one or more of
these recalls in the United States.

Millions more Toyota products are involved in global recalls.

LaHood says NHTSA has the resources to enforce safety laws.

Toyota, of course, initially and subsequently asserted that unintended acceleration was solely the result of “pedal entrapment” from floor mats.

That assertion was negated when NHTSA investigators found the floor mats of a Toyota locked in the trunk of a vehicle that was involved in a fatal accident.   (more…)

U.S. Congressional Hearings on Toyota Postponed

Unlike the Post Office, snow shuts down taxpayer supported Congress and its Toyota Sudden Acceleration Hearings.

by on Feb.09, 2010

Snowed out!

Chairman Edolphus “Ed” Towns (D-NY) and Ranking Member Darrell Issa (R-CA) have rescheduled tomorrow’s  hearing by the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform titled: “Toyota Gas Pedals: Is the Public at Risk?”

The hearing will now take place on Wednesday, February 24 at 10:00 a.m.

The latest move, likely not the result of behind the scenes maneuvering in lobbyist-dominated Washington, gives the beleaguered Japanese automaker and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration more time to prepare for what will be grueling questioning over their conduc, contradictory statements and lack of action on safety matters involving unintended acceleration, sticking gas pedals and failed brakes on a growing number of now  millions of Toyota  and Lexus vehicles.

However, time cuts both ways, as it will give the U.S. Senate a chance to pre-empt the House in the interim. Thus far, no Senate hearings have been scheduled, but the snow storm, and storm of controversy surrounding Toyota creates a political opportunity here.

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Shoveling Snow, and other Emissions!

The House hearing, one of two scheduled,  when it comes off  is also supposed to “gain a better understanding of the nature of the sudden acceleration problem in Toyota vehicles and what should be done about it.”

“Due to the inclement weather set to impact the DC Metropolitan area tonight and tomorrow, Ranking Member Issa and I have agreed to reschedule the hearing on the Toyota gas pedal recall,” said Chairman Towns. “I look forward to hearing from our witnesses on February 24th.”    (more…)

Witnesses Added for Toyota Safety Issues Hearing

The House Committee on Oversight and Government Reforms meets Wednesday on Toyota with the usual suspects.

by on Feb.08, 2010

What should be done? Speculation and answers, maybe, this week.

Chairman Edolphus Towns (D-NY) has announced additional witnesses for a Congressional hearing this Wednesday afternoon, “Toyota Gas Pedals:  Is the Public at Risk?”

The hearing opens as Toyota has begun mailing letters to owners of recalled vehicles to let them know when to bring their vehicles into a dealership for a 30-minute repair for sticking accelerator pedals. It is expected that this recall will take months, or even longer, to accomplish.

Toyota’s five North American factories are once again producing vehicles after a one-week hiatus and affected recalled models are also on sale again. This will be subject to some debate as existing owners wait to be notified for when and how their vehicles will be fixed.

The Oversight Committee claims it will examine the Federal government’s response to the recall of millions of Toyota vehicles due to reports of malfunctioning gas pedals, and to gain a “better understanding” of the sudden acceleration problem in Toyota vehicles and what should be done about it. (Click here for a flinty-eyed view of the hearing process.)

“There appears to be growing public concern regarding which Toyota vehicles may be problematic and how people should respond. Consumers want to know whether their cars are safe to drive and, if not, they need to know what to do about it,” said Chairman Towns.

Both Raymond LaHood, the U.S. Secretary of Transportation, and David Strickland
the Administrator of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration are scheduled to testify early in the session. They will face tough questioning on what government regulators knew about the problems, when they knew it and why – if critics areheeded – it took so long to do something about the problems. They will also be asked if the fixes Toyota has proposed are adequate, and are final.

No bouquets coming Inaba's way this week.

Appearing next in the glare of the television lights will be Yoshimi Inaba, President and CEO of Toyota Motor North America.

It is surprising that the committee has not demanded Akio Toyoda appear, since he spoke out on Toyota’s problems at a press conference in Nagoya, Japan last Friday.

Inaba, and whoever sits with him from Toyota, will face the same questions, as well as ones about contradictory earlier statements from Toyota alleging the problem was one of entrapped floor mats and was contained to a limited number of vehicles.   (more…)