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Lawsuit against Toyota dropped

A lawyer who sought to reopen 17 rollover claims says he cannot prove his case after reviewing documents allegedly showing that Toyota had hidden key evidence.

December 24, 2009|By Ken Bensinger and Ralph Vartabedian

In a victory for Toyota Motor Corp., an attorney has dropped a lawsuit seeking to reopen 17 rollover cases against the automaker based on claims by a former Toyota attorney that the company had hidden key evidence.

Attorney E. Todd Tracy, who represents victims in the rollover cases, said he asked a federal judge in Marshall, Texas, to dismiss his case Wednesday after being shown documents by the automaker. The judge complied.

"It's my belief, after reviewing these documents, that the evidence will not assist my suits," said Tracy. "I'm disappointed beyond belief."

Tracy had filed his case after the former Toyota lawyer, Dimitrios P. Biller of Pacific Palisades, filed suit in U.S. District Court in Los Angeles against Toyota last summer, alleging that it had engaged in a calculated scheme to hide evidence in product liability and personal injury cases.

For 4 1/2 years, Biller headed the automaker's rollover litigation work and was directly involved in some of the suits Tracy had handled. His lawsuit alleges that Toyota hid or destroyed evidence in roughly 300 rollover cases.

Legal experts have speculated that Biller's suit, if successful, could lead to dozens of closed Toyota cases being reopened.

In October, Biller delivered four boxes of documents to the Texas federal courtroom and said they contained proof of the conspiracy. Those documents, some 6,000 in all, have been kept sealed by the court, although Toyota officials have been allowed to review them.

Tracy, however, said Toyota showed him "a mirror set" of the documents over the last several days, including company e-mails, letters sent to government officials and internal testing documents. After the review, Tracy said, he had no option but to drop the suits. "I cannot prove my case" based on the documents, he said.

Jeff Allen, an attorney for Biller, said that the news would have no bearing on his client's suit, which alleges a campaign of harassment by his former employer.

"This does not impact our case," he said.

Mike Michels, a Toyota spokesman, said Wednesday that the automaker is "absolutely pleased" with Tracy's decision and declined to comment further.

Toyota has dismissed Biller's allegations as "inaccurate and misleading."

The automaker still could face other litigation in rollover matters because of the Biller suit. Tab Turner, an Arkansas attorney who handled a number of rollover cases against Toyota, said that he was contacted by the automaker shortly after Tracy filed suit in September.

Toyota wanted to know whether he planned to move to reopen his old cases, Turner said.

Since then, Turner said, he and several other attorneys have met informally with Toyota officials on two occasions and that company lawyers called him Wednesday morning to inform him of the dismissal in Texas.

Another meeting is planned for Jan. 7, and Turner said he expects Toyota to show him documents related to his rollover cases.

"I'm not convinced there's no meat on the bones here," said Turner, adding that he still believes that issues raised by Biller may pertain to his cases. "Anything is possible. We could walk away. We could end up settling. We could sue."

Don Slavik, a Milwaukee attorney who represents at least one rollover victim, has also been in touch with Toyota in recent weeks.

"It's too early to say what we'll do," he said. "I would call this the investigation stage."

ken.bensinger@latimes.com

ralph.vartabedian@

latimes.com

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