Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Did Toyota Commit Fraud With Evasive Courtroom Tactics?

We have written extensively in recent weeks about lawyers who use deceptive and fraudulent tactics in an effort to hide the wrongdoing of debt collectors.

Now it appears debt collectors are not alone in practicing fraud on the court. They are joined by Toyota, a company that once enjoyed a stellar reputation.

A review of lawsuits filed around the country shows that Toyota routinely engages in deceptive legal tactics when it is sued, according to a recent article by reporters Curt Anderson and Danny Robbins for the Associated Press. In fact, Toyota now is being sued for fraud because of its unlawful actions in an earlier case.

The review involved a wide range of complaints, not just the sudden acceleration problems that have led to a massive recall of Toyota vehicles. How does Toyota, a company once known for quality and integrity, approach cases in the courtroom? Anderson and Robbins write:

Toyota has routinely engaged in questionable, evasive and deceptive legal tactics when sued, frequently claiming it does not have information it is required to turn over and sometimes even ignoring court orders to produce key documents, an Associated Press investigation shows.

That should sound familiar to regular Legal Schnauzer readers. That is exactly the behavior we've described regarding a lawsuit my wife and I have filed against two debt-collection firms--Pennsylvania-based NCO and Birmingham-based Ingram & Associates--alleging multiple violations of the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA) and various state-law claims.

NCO and Ingram & Associates have turned over just a fraction of material they are required to produce in discovery. They even have resorted to blatant fraud, stating in court documents that I "withheld" evidence when e-mail records clearly show that our lawyer produced the material in question.

Could this kind of behavior wind up biting the debt collectors on the fanny? Well, it's already happening to Toyota.

Here's how AP describes a case against the automaker that went to trial five years ago. It involved a Colorado man named Jon Kuylowicz:

For example, in a Colorado product liability lawsuit filed by a man whose young daughter was killed in a 4Runner rollover crash, Toyota withheld documents about internal roof strength tests despite a federal judge's order that such information be produced, according to court records. The attorneys for Jon Kurylowicz now say such documents might have changed the outcome of the case, which ended in a 2005 jury verdict for Toyota.

Stuart Ollanik, an attorney for Kuylowicz, has filed a new lawsuit, accusing Toyota of fraud in the earlier case.

How do corporate wrongdoers get away with slippery tactics in the courtroom? Here's how the process is supposed to work, according to AP:

The AP reviewed numerous cases around the country in which Toyota's actions were evasive, and sometimes even deceptive, in providing answers to questions posed by plaintiffs. Court rules generally allow a person or company who is sued to object to turning over requested information; it's permitted and even expected that defense attorneys play hardball, but it's a violation to claim evidence does not exist when it does.

In our case against debt collectors, we've seen firsthand how lawyers try to squirm out of producing documents. We're not sure if the defendants will claim certain documents do not exist, when they do. It's too early to tell at this point, and the judge has not yet been asked to resolve discovery issues.

But our experience provides classic examples of corporate evasiveness. And as we noted earlier, the debt collectors resorted to outright fraud when they tried to have tape-recorded evidence stricken by falsely claiming that I had withheld it.

What's it like to try to get information out of corporate wrongdoers? We can give you an up-close and personal view. The discovery we've received from NCO and Ingram & Associates indicates they are extremely sensitive about several kinds of key information:

* Any contracts between the two of them--or among them and the alleged original creditor, American Express;

* Any communications between the two of them--or among them and American Express;

* Any communications among them and any third parties.

Here are two classic examples of corporate evasiveness. These are answers to our discovery, first from Ingram & Associates and then from NCO. I suspect these are the kinds of answers Toyota tends to produce early on, before resorting to out-and-out fraud:

Ingram Discovery Response

NCO Discovery Response

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