A federal appeals court has ordered Dimitrous Peter Biller, a former in-house lawyer for Toyota Motor Corp., to pay the carmaker $2.6 million for disclosing confidential information. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit upheld an award by an arbitrator in a ruling on February 3rd. Biller accused the automaker of withholding evidence in rollover cases and made public evidence that he said supported his claims. It certainly appeared that Toyota had withheld evidence in its litigation history, and it certainly involved safety issues. But Biller’s agreement with the carmaker seems to have created a big problem for him.
The arbitrator ruled that regardless of the content, the public disclosures violated Biller’s severance agreement with the automaker. Toyota paid Biller $3.7 million in 2007 when he left the company after defending the company for four years in rollover lawsuits. In exchange, Biller agreed to return all confidential documents and not disclose their contents. The Appeals Court rejected Biller’s position that the disclosures furthered public safety, which trumped the nondisclosure agreements. The documents that were made public clearly put Toyota in a very bad light.
It was quite obvious that serious safety hazards had been hidden by the carmaker from public view. I strongly believe that any significant information involving highway safety hazards should be made public. It’s impossible to justify allowing any automaker to keep such information secret. The courts have an obligation to protect the public on issues that involve safety and hazards. While the lawyer in this case may well have violated his agreement with Toyota, the carmaker should have disclosed the information in prior lawsuits.
Source: Claims Journal
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