Rollover lawsuits could haunt Toyota

ByABC News
September 1, 2009, 11:33 PM

— -- Toyota could face a raft of reopened vehicle-rollover lawsuits after allegations by a former in-house lawyer that the automaker concealed and destroyed evidence and conspired to obstruct justice in civil cases.

An attorney who lost one rollover case against Toyota and settled another filed a lawsuit Friday against Toyota alleging unfair practices, fraud and racketeering. "If Mr. Biller's allegations are true, it should fit into all three of those," says the lawyer, Richard McCune of Redlands, Calif., who is seeking class-action status for the lawsuit.

In an e-mailed statement, Toyota blasted Biller and defended its legal department: "Mr. Biller has repeatedly breached his ethical and professional obligations, both as an attorney and in his commitments to us, by violating attorney-client privilege in defiance of a court restraining order that Toyota obtained against him."

Biller did not return a call. Attorneys for Biller said they had no comment beyond the filing.

Consumer groups are watching. "If the allegations are correct that Toyota destroyed or withheld (electronic) data, it has the potential to reopen hundreds of Toyota rollover cases," says Clarence Ditlow, executive director of the Center for Auto Safety.

According to Biller, Toyota also withheld a report involving roof-crush data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

"There are vehicles on the road today" that don't meet Toyota's internally required safety goals, Biller alleges in his court filing.

Rae Tyson, a NHTSA spokesman, says the withheld data wouldn't have mattered in formulation of new rules for rollover safety because the agency performed its own tests.