According to a congressional committee chairman, Japanese auto major Toyota withheld documents it was legally required to turn over in liability lawsuits the company faced and it paid higher settlements to plaintiffs to avoid revealing information contained in Toyota's secret "Books of Knowledge.
Rep Edolphus Towns (D-NY), chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, said on Friday in a statement, that the documents obtained under subpoena from a former Toyota lawyer who turned whistleblower, "indicate a systematic disregard for the law and routine violation of court discovery orders in litigation."
The committee subpoenaed documents, in possession of top Toyota North America lawyer, Dimitrios Biller, who represented the company from 2003 to 2007. Biller defended Toyota in matters concerning liability claims of Toyota drivers who were injured in crashes.
According to Biller, the company refused to release documents it was legally bound to turn over in an attempt to block the cases from going forward.
The documents include those relating to a 2006 rollover case that left the driver paralysed. Toyota was willing to pay a premium payment to prevent access to Toyota's Books of Knowledge. According to Biller the books contain highly sensitive information involving trade secrets and other information of a confidential nature.
In the documents, Biller explains: "The Books of Knowledge contain information on how to design vehicles and component parts (including safety systems like seat belts, side curtain airbags). The information does not relate to any one particular vehicle; the information relates to all vehicles. The information is essentially design principles and philosophies that serve the foundation for how Toyota designs its vehicles."
In another related development on Friday, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration said that it purchased the Lexus ES350 that was driven by Tennessean Rhonda Smith in a 2006 incident that saw the vehicle's accelerator get stuck to the car's floor. The car took Smith on a six-mile, 100-mph terror ride, which she recalled in a gripping testimony on Capitol Hill on Tuesday.
The NHTSA said it would test the vehicle and try to find the cause of the runaway acceleration.