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US House Investigates Toyota

Toyota Recall – The Latest News on the Increasing Number of Deaths Attributed to Sudden Unintended Acceleration.

The world’s largest automobile manufacturer still denies electronics are to blame, but knew of the sudden acceleration problems as early as 2005.

Toyota is apparently doing everything it can to sweep the recall under the rug, but the increasing number of deaths is alarming. Initially, 19 fatalities were reported. Last month (February, 2010) these number increased to 34 deaths and 22 alleged lawsuits in connection with the sudden acceleration problems. As of March 2, 2010, the total number is 52, (according to Bloomberg News services) which is more than any other car maker.

Toyota Vehicles Involved in Sudden Acceleration Incidents Resulting in Fatalities

Toyota Camry (The Most Deadly of them All?)

  • 1996 Toyota Camry (1 reported incident)
  • 2002 Toyota Camry (2 reported incidents)
  • 2003 Toyota Camry (2 reported incidents)
  • 2004 Toyota Camry (1 reported incident)
  • 2005 Toyota Camry (6 reported incidents)
  • 2006 Toyota Camry (1 reported incident)
  • 2007 Toyota Camry (3 reported incidents)
  • 2007 Toyota Camry LE (1 reported incident)
  • 2009 Toyota Camry (1 reported incident)
  • 2010 Toyota Camry (1 reported incident)

Other Toyota Models

  • 1992 Toyota 4Runner (1 reported incident)
  • 1996 Toyota Avalon (1 reported incident)
  • 1997 Toyota Avalon (1 reported incident)
  • 2001 Toyota Avalon (1 reported incident)
  • 2009 Toyota Corolla (2 reported incidents)
  • 2005 Toyota Highlander (1 reported incident)
  • 2008 Toyota Highlander (1 reported incident)
  • 2005 Toyota Prius (1 reported incident)
  • 2007 Toyota Sienna (1 reported incident)
  • 2004 Toyota Solara (1 reported incident)
  • 2007 Toyota Tundra (1 reported incident)
  • 2007 Toyota Yaris (1 reported incident)
  • 2006 Lexus ES330 (1 reported incident)
  • 2007 Lexus ES350 (1 reported incident)
  • 2004 Lexus RX330 (1 reported incident)

The Electronic Throttle Control System (Which Toyota Still Denies)

Interestingly, thirty three (33) of the crashes, causing forty-one (41) deaths, were in vehicles with electronic throttle controls. NHTSA is investigating whether electronic systems contributed to the incidents, while Toyota has adamantly denied any evidence of a connection involving its electronics. In direct contradiction to this position, Toyota also has said it will install advanced brake-override systems in all new models beginning in 2011. The company will also retrofit seven current models with a software fix, which slows a vehicle if it receives signals both to accelerate and brake. If its not the electronics, why is Toyota’s “solution” targeted to address obvious electrical flaws in their vehicles?

CONGRESS TO TOYOTA: TOYOTA KNEW OF THE PROBLEM IN 2005; TOYOTA CONCEALED EVIDENCE: AND TOYOTA’S DOCUMENTS REFLECT A “SYSTEMIC DISREGARD FOR THE LAW”

On February 26, 2010, The House of Representatives wrote to Toyota, stating, inter alia:

Notably, in June 2005 Mr. Biller replied to an email on the Greenburg case, a lawsuit involving sudden unintended acceleration. In his memo, Mr. Biller annotates his reply to an email from Webster Burns, another Toyota executive:

"When this lawsuit was threatened, no one was surprised. This issue [sudden unintended acceleration] had been the subject of a number of meetings and the exchange of a number of documents between TMS and TMC, did anyone ever gather and organize all those documents and memorialize the "meetings "? If so, were [sic] are the documents and information about the meetings? (emphasis indicates Biller's comments) and the possibility of a class action lawsuit was used as one way to try to get TMC to work on a series of proposed countermeasures."

In sum, the Biller documents indicate a systematic disregard for the law and routine violation of court discovery orders in litigation. People injured in crashes involving Toyota vehicles may have been injured a second time when Toyota failed to produce relevant evidence in court. Moreover, this also raises very serious questions as to whether Toyota has also withheld substantial, relevant information from NHTSA.

Clearly, Toyota knew of the problem at least by June 2005, if not long before. Their failure to address this problem in a timely fashion may have caused numerous unnecessary accidents and fatalities.

Below is the full document from Congress to Toyota


Congress of the United States House of Representatives February 26, 2010

Mr. Yoshimi Inaba
President and CEO
Toyota Motor North America, Inc.
601 13th Street, NW
Washington, DC 20005

Dear Mr. Inaba:

As you know, the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform has been conducting an investigation into Toyota's handling of vehicle recalls arising from incidents of sudden unintended acceleration. As part of this investigation, we have obtained and reviewed documents produced under subpoena from a former Toyota in-house lawyer, Mr. Dimitrios Biller. We have reviewed these documents and found evidence that Toyota deliberately withheld relevant electronic records that it was legally required to produce in response to discovery orders in litigation. Many of these documents concern "rollover" cases in which the plaintiff was injured. I am writing to request that you personally review these records and provide a response to these allegations.

Mr. Biller was a Managing Counsel in the Product Liability Group of Toyota Motor Sales, USA (TMS), from April 2003 to September 2007. This was a very senior position, in which he led the defense of some of the largest tort cases filed against Toyota, particularly "rollover" cases involving seriously injured victims, including quadriplegics.

In an internal memorandum dated September 1, 2005, entitled "A Serious Need to Get Documents/E-Discovery From TMC", Mr. Biller informed his supervisor that he was concerned about Toyota's failure to produce electronic documents in litigation. While conducting a search for relevant evidence in the "Sears" case, Mr. Biller discovered a computer database known as "MIK". According to Mr. Biller, MIK had been in existence for a number of years and includes information about "design problems" and "countermeasures used to resolve issues." The MIK database can be searched by vehicle and by component part. Moreover, the information in MIK is maintained by Toyota Motor Corporation (TMC). Information from MIK "is down loaded by TTC [Toyota Technical Center] into secret electronic "Books of Knowledge."

According to Mr. Biller:, this information "has never been produced in litigation." Further, Mr. Biller states unequivocally, "Clearly, this information should have been produced in litigation before today." He adds that, "TMC is clearly not producing all of the relevant information/documents in it possession." Finally, Mr. Biller concludes, "We need to start preserving, collecting and producing e-mails and electronic discovery."

Despite Mr. Biller's conclusion that Toyota was required to start preserving, collecting, and producing e-mails and other electronic documents, more than a year later the Books of Knowledge had still not been produced in litigation. In fact, the Biller documents indicate that Toyota entered into multi-million dollar settlements in tort cases where they feared that the plaintiff's lawyer was getting close to discovering the existence of the Books of Knowledge.

For example, in an email dated December 6, 2006, Mr. Biller describes in detail to his superiors at Toyota that a major reason he agreed to a $1.5 million settlement in the "Penny Green case" was to prevent disclosure of the Books of Knowledge. This case is particularly appalling, in that the victim, Penny Green, was a healthy young woman who was rendered a quadriplegic in the rollover of a Toyota vehicle.

The documents also indicate that Mr. Biller was concerned that Toyota's interactions with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) would be discovered. Mr. Biller wrote in an internal email in November 2006 that a plaintiff's lawyer, Jeffrey Embroy, had "learned about the substantial involvement of TMA with NHTSA and how TMC communicates with NHTSA via TMA and the Alliance."

Finally, the Biller documents shine some light on Toyota's handling of the sudden unintended acceleration problem. In an internal email sent in June 2005, Mr. Biller expresses his concerns about Toyota's apparent failure to collect and produce relevant evidence:

Notably, in June 2005 Mr. Biller replied to an email on the Greenburg case, a lawsuit involving sudden unintended acceleration. In his memo, Mr. Biller annotates his reply to an email from Webster Burns, another Toyota executive:

"When this lawsuit was threatened, no one was surprised. This issue [sudden unintended acceleration] had been the subject of a number of meetings and the exchange of a number of documents between TMS and TMC, (did anyone ever gather and organize all those documents and memorialize the "meetings"? If so, were [sic] are the documents and information about the meetings?) [emphasis indicates Biller's comments] and the possibility of a class action lawsuit was used as one way to try to get TMC to work on a series of proposed countermeasures."

In sum, the Biller documents indicate a systematic disregard for the law and routine violation of court discovery orders in litigation. People injured in crashes involving Toyota vehicles may have been injured a second time when Toyota failed to produce relevant evidence in court. Moreover, this also raises very serious questions as to whether Toyota has also withheld substantial, relevant information from NHTSA.

To aid in our investigation of these and related issues, please respond to the following questions:

  1. What steps did Toyota take to address the concerns expressed by Mr. Biller in his September 1, 2005 memorandum regarding the need to produce relevant electronic records, including the Books of Knowledge?
  2. Has Toyota disclosed the existence of the Books of Knowledge to NHTSA" If so, when and under what circumstances?
  3. When did Toyota begin producing all relevant electronic documents in response to discovery requests in tort cases?
  4. Have the Books of Knowledge been produced in response to discovery requests in litigation" If so, please list the cases in which they have been disclosed. If not, please explain why they have not been disclosed.
  5. If it is true that the Books of Knowledge and other relevant electronic records were not produced in the course of litigation as required, will Toyota petition to reopen all closed cases so that the relevant evidence may be considered?

Your cooperation with this inquiry is greatly appreciated. Please provide your response to these questions no later than Should you have any questions regarding this request, please contact Committee staff at 202-225-5051.

Sincerely,
Edolphus Towns
Chairman Committee on Oversight and Government Reform

cc: The Honorable Darrell Issa
Ranking Minority Member

Committee on Oversight and Government Reform

Congress Letter to Toyota PDF