• Aug 31st 2009 at 10:26AM
  • 50
Toyota 4Runner with Urban Runner package - Click above for high-res image gallery

Toyota looks to have a potential public-relations nightmare on its hands. According to CBS News, one of the company's former lawyers, Dimitrios P. Biller, has filed a federal racketeering suit against the Japanese automaker. Biller worked for Toyota from 2003 through 2007 defending the company against rollover lawsuits blaming injuries and deaths on the alleged instability and weak roof structures of the company's SUVs and pickups. Biller's suit alleges that Toyota has withheld electronic evidence like emails in over 300 rollover cases, and it states that evidence was destroyed by the company in spite of his efforts to secure the data. The suit also alleges that Toyota withheld design and test data for vehicle roofs, and it also states that some vehicles on the road today don't meet roof safety standards.

The disgruntled lawyer claims that he was forced to resign in 2007 after lodging several complaints to his supervisors about the company's alleged legal misconduct. The lawsuit claims that conflicts resulting from Biller's complaints ultimately led to his mental breakdown, along with a $3.7 million severance payout from Toyota.

Toyota is saying very little about Biller's charges, though the company told CBS News that Biller's charges are "inaccurate and misleading," and that the company "takes its legal obligations seriously and works to uphold the highest professional and ethical standards." The lawsuit was filed on July 24, but Toyota has worked to seal the complaint due to what the company calls privileged and confidential information.

The legal skermish has, rather predictably, caught the eye of lawyers around the country. If the lawsuit gains traction and has a favorable outcome for Biller, dozens of Toyota legal victories could be called into question. Denver lawyer Stuart Ollanik of Gilbert, Ollanik and Komyatte has reportedly settled dozens of cases against Toyota and he told CBS News that he wondered if the cases "were resolved based on honest information or not." San Jose lawyer James McManis, who lost a case involving a plaintiff who became a quadriplegic after rolling over in a Toyota 4Runner, told CBS News that everything "was a big fight – and I mean everything," and he wonders if he ever got all the information he was entitled to receive.

It's important to remember that none of the information in Biller's lawsuit has been proven, and rollover suits have been pretty common for many automakers. Whether Toyota is at fault or not, though, the suit can't be good publicity for a company that prides itself on its quality and safety record. The motion is set for September 14. Hat tip to Steve.

[Source: CBS News]

I'm reporting this comment as:

Reported comments and users are reviewed by Autoblog staff 24 hours a day, seven days a week to determine whether they violate Community Guideline. Accounts are penalized for Community Guidelines violations and serious or repeated violations can lead to account termination.

    • 1 Second Ago
      • 6 Years Ago
      Unless this gets much coverage in the mainstream media, it might not affect peoples perceptions of Toyota much.
      • 6 Years Ago
      id happily go thru a mental breakdown for 3.7 million dollars.
      • 6 Years Ago
      For what I know all SUVs are proned to rollovers, there is a rollover warning glued to the sunvisor . The roof of SUV's have to be strong, I don't know how strong because there is know way of telling how many times it will roll over. Most people that I've met with SUVs by these to feel safe while driving. I guess that they don't know that safety begins with the part that's behind the steering wheel. Anyways, I don't know how fast the person that ended up quadriplegic was driving, and how many times he's truck rolled over, but I bet to end up quadriplegic driving an SUV, the SUV has to roll over more than twice, and the truck has to be going pretty quick.

      I think that all SUVs fall into this category, not just Toyota.
      • 6 Years Ago
      legal skermish?
      • 6 Years Ago
      and here come the armchair lawyers...3, 2, 1...
        • 6 Years Ago
        All it takes is one hole to sink a ship!

        • 6 Years Ago
        shut up all of you
        bravo me
        • 6 Years Ago
        Well, the writer misspelled "skirmish." That's three posts read, three mistakes spotted. Depressing. Robs Autoblog of legitimacy.
        • 6 Years Ago
        And there goes the spelling/grammar/punctuation deficient comment.

        Bravo l.i.dave.
        • 6 Years Ago
        $3.7M severance for a staff lawyer? That has to have been about 20 years worth of wages for this guy (my guess - but it doesn't sound like he was their top guy or anything).

        'Scuse me, but I gotta wonder if Toyota maybe thought it was buying silence.
        • 6 Years Ago
        And there goes the random grammer check, because that's all he's got.

        Bravo slizzo
      • 6 Years Ago

      "Toyota is to bland to be ruthless"

      That's what they want you to think. Having worked for Toyota in the past I know they are the most two faced ruthless carmaker. They are all about image and how they look in the public eye. Pay whatever is necessary to stop bad press. Makes me wonder if they pay whatever for good press to.
        • 6 Years Ago
        You can't get mad at toyota for caring about their image. Image plays a big roll in this market whether you like it or not. Consumer perception of a their brand is huge...Toyota has the reliability image going for them now and they will do anything to keep it that way as anyone with any sense would.
        ...now they just need to work on the design and performance side of their image
      • 6 Years Ago
      "The highest professional and ethical standards" have resulted in:
      1. Engines that sludge and fail if they aren't maintained with synthetic oil and with far more frequent oil changes than are listed in the owner's manual.
      2. Toyota FJ's with the front upper body structure snapping off.
      3. Toyota Tundras with flubbery frames, bad engines, bad transmissions and tailgates made out of tinfoil.
      4. A fleet of car and truck models made off of what amounts to two vehicles and everyone complaining that GM is doing too much "platform sharing".
      5. Roofs that collapse when the vehicles roll over because a RAV-4 is not a Corolla but it has a roof structure like one.
      • 6 Years Ago
      Doesn't surprise me considering how MMC (Mitsubishi) did similar things in Japan and Toyota is considered a sweatshop company in Japan.
      • 6 Years Ago
      Brian, where are you?
      • 6 Years Ago
      Cue outrage from JDMLife in 5, 4, 3, 2, 1...
      • 6 Years Ago
      This is no surprise, as a worker at one of the american auto companies, ( the one that is not in bed with obama) toyota has always had this reputation of tricks like this and usually the media does not take them to task, ( just like the media and obama) but in this case, perhaps money will motivate and this could finally be the one to expose them to the rest of the world. Even so, the da american public will still keep buying camry's still falsely thinking they are better quality
      • 6 Years Ago
      Why are these vehicles rolling over? I'm betting if you get people to be truly honest about how the rollovers happened they were driving very unreasonably which probably contributed to catastrophic failure of the roofs. People have to get it through their thick skulls that the Sport in Sport Utility Vehicle does not mean Sports Car.
    • Load More Comments
    Share This Photo X