An arbitrator has ruled that preliminary evidence indicates that Toyota Motor Corp. hired a lawyer to destroy or conceal incriminating safety documents from vehicle owners who filed suits over rollover crashes.
Former Toyota lawyer Dimitrios Biller considers this ruling as a procedural victory in what appears to be an extended legal battle with Toyota over his departure in 2007.
The ruling on Sept. 9 by the arbitrator, retired federal Judge Gary Taylor, of Orange, Calif., means that some internal documents can be used by Biller for the case and Toyota won’t be able to claim attorney-client privilege.
Biller was employed at Toyota's US headquarters in Torrance, Calif., from 2003 to 2007. He later asserted that Toyota hired him to withhold documents from plaintiffs who sued the company after crashes. Taylor said that his findings were based on Biller's testimony and were made upon reviewing internal Toyota documents.
Taylor wrote that Biller’s testimony is “probably sufficient by itself to establish a prima facie showing.” He cited Biller’s role as a key lawyer in Toyota's litigation department that would give him firsthand knowledge of the evidence.
The eight-page decision further stated that a prima facie finding indicates “some foundation in fact” that includes evidence “sufficient for a reasonable inference to be drawn.” What the ruling doesn’t say is if Toyota acted illegally or if Biller will succeed. There will still be a trial for the case, with Biller set to testify in mid-November. Upon Biller’s resignation, he received a $3.7 million severance package.
Last year, Toyota filed a $33.5 million suit against Biller, claiming that Biller broke the terms of that severance agreement by keeping copies of company documents for himself. Biller filed a countersuit, claiming that he resigned because he was improperly treated and because of defamation.
The two suits were consolidated under court-supervised arbitration. Toyota will continue to oppose Biller's “inaccurate and misleading allegations,” according to a Toyota spokeswoman. [via autonews - sub. required]