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A former in-house attorney with Toyota Motor Corporation, has been ordered by a Southern California arbitrator to pay Toyota $2.6 million in damages following the leaking of confidential documents to the public, relating to vehicle rollover accidents and subsequent recalls.
Retired Federal Judge, Gary Taylor said that Dimitris P. Biller, the attorney who worked in house for Toyota for four years, defending the automaker against lawsuits blamed on faulty manufacturing for causing rollover accidents, broke an underlying rule, the safeguard of his client’s confidences.
Biller left Toyota in 2007 and subsequently disclosed confidential information regarding these lawsuits on his website, through seminars, media interviews and also to a Texas court hearing without a subpoena.
Judge Taylor stated that by doing so, Biller was acting as a whistleblower and the damage Toyota suffered as a result of the leaked information was “real and extensive.” Biller claims that he leaked the information as a matter of public safety.
Nevertheless, the fact remains that, according to the law, Biller still did not have the right to disseminate a client’s confidential information and as a result the ruling stands.
The damages awarded to Toyota include $2.5 million for unauthorized disclosures of confidential information as well as $100,000 in punitive damages. Taylor also issued Biller instructions to return the confidential documents he obtained while employed by Toyota.
Generally, most arbitration agreements like this one tend to remain confidential affairs, but in this case, Taylor allowed Toyota to make the ruling public to neutralize the effect the leaked documents had on making a one-sided argument against the automaker relating to the rollover accidents.
In a written statement, Christopher Reynolds, Toyota’s group vice president and general counsel stated “Toyota takes its legal obligations very seriously and works hard to uphold the highest professional and ethical standards. We are gratified that the credibility of Toyota’s legal organization and the integrity of our legal professionals have been validated.”
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration said that, over the last decade, it has received approximately 3,000 reports of unintended vehicle acceleration from Toyota vehicles, causing crashes that resulted in 93 deaths. However, to date, the government has only been able to confirm two deaths and five accidents.