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Are claims that Toyota destroyed evidence in rollover cases only the imagination of a disgruntled lawyer, or fact?

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In a dynamic story released yesterday in the LA times, a lawyer employed as legal counsel for Toyota, disclosed that Toyota had destroyed evidence that would be harmful in the defense of roll over cases. Toyota claims that the story is nothing more than ramblings of a disgruntled employee. What is alarming is that this “disgruntled” employee received a huge severance package, over 3 million dollars when he left. Furthermore, as an attorney, he will lose his legal license, if he cannot prove or substantiate his claims. Does this sound like a disgruntled employee, or a person with a conscious that is coming forward after all these years.

Rollover cases cause great and disastrous injury, and on many occasions wrongful death. For those that may think that rollover claims provide a windfall to attorneys and claimants, think again. Many cases take years to litigate. Many are lost because there is no way to prove the manufacturer knew of the defects before the accident occurred. In some cases, even if the company knew of the design defect, they argue that the defect was not the cause of a particular accident. The fight over what evidence exists and what is released to claimants and their attorneys during litigation is always protracted.

Some cases require $200-300,000 in expert fees to analyse the accident and vehicle. Black box technology is a closely guarded secret of manufacturers, so the claimants are many times completely reliant on the manufacturer’s honesty and word that the data taken from the black boxes is accurate.

Unlike an airline crash, the black box data is not analyzed by independent investigators. You can see why Toyota and other manufactures do not want to turn over all evidence they may uncover, fearful that they may have more claims, when it is disclosed that the company knew and refused to change dangerously designed vehicles.

Add that California does not punish car manufacturers for destruction of evidence, and you have a no risk opportunity for the company to literally “try to get away with murder.” I suspect when the dust settles, lots of “new” evidence will be uncovered, further underlining the lessons of this decade; corporations cannot be trusted to act ethically and without oversight.

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