AP on Toyota legal “stonewalling”

by Walter Olson on April 13, 2010

Is the Japanese company super-extra-resistant to discovery demands, or is it just behaving the way other automakers would, backed up by a Japanese legal environment that is less oriented than ours toward compulsory disclosure-on-demand managed by hostile lawyers? Michael Fumento: “it’s clear from the article that the ‘experts’ upon whom the journalists relied aren’t just lawyers, aren’t just trial lawyers, but are trial lawyers suing Toyota.”

{ 6 comments }

1 Justinian Lane 04.13.10 at 1:32 pm

I hope you’ll agree that whatever Japan’s legal culture may be has no bearing upon whether Toyota must obey U.S. court orders in U.S. lawsuits.

Evidence is mounting that instead of refusing to disclose certain documents under some evidentiary privilege, Toyota just denied that the documents existed in the first place. If that’s what happened, the company shouldn’t be let off the hook because Japan doesn’t allow U.S.-style discovery. Toyota voluntarily entered our market, and are thus obligated to play by our rules.

2 CarLitGuy 04.13.10 at 1:47 pm

On this, Justinian, we agree. Hyundai recently got an introduction to US-style sanctions for discovery violations by way of the Washongton state courts.

http://www.mondaq.com/unitedstates/article.asp?articleid=92152

http://www.ediscoverylaw.com/2006/06/articles/case-summaries/washington-court-enters-ultimate-sanction-of-default-against-defendants-for-discovery-abuses-reinstating-8064055-jury-verdict/

http://www.perkinscoie.com/news/pubs_detail.aspx?publication=2405

Regardless of how I may feel on certain policy decisions advanced by various courts, I am a strong advocate for parties being treated equally by the courts. toyota should no more be singled out for special treatment than General Motors, Ford, or any other person appearing – plaintiff or defendant.

3 CarLitGuy 04.13.10 at 2:02 pm

Sorry, those weren’t the best links, but I hope they convey the gist of the decision. Not at my regular machine, dont have a direct link to the opinion, Magana v Hyundai Motors. Washington Supreme Court. There is also a recent case from California, Doppes v Bentley, with some rather strong discovery sanctions in a warranty matter.

Given the lack of success in my prior efforts, i’ll not try to link that case here.

4 Anonymous Attorney 04.13.10 at 2:39 pm

The media is a low-friction conduit from the plaintiff attorney’s press release to the pages of the newspaper or TV production room. And their respective politics are such a nice meld, I doubt many journalists cast a critical eye on plaintiff attorney claims. Of course, defense attorneys don’t help matters much by clamming up completely.

5 Justinian Lane 04.13.10 at 6:40 pm

CarLitGuy: I’ve seen the Hyundai decision before but not the Bentley one – thanks.

I’m glad we can agree that not liking the law doesn’t allow you to disregard it.

Anonymous: Defense attorneys don’t clam up completely. They always say that the plaintiff’s case “has no merit.”

6 CarLitGuy 04.13.10 at 10:46 pm

Actually, I’ve seen many cases that had merit, but not sufficient merit to warrant plaintiff counsel’s unsupported and outrageous fee demands. See Dominguez v American Suzuki (California), or Belfour v Shaumberg Auto (trying another link).

http://www.state.il.us/court/Opinions/AppellateCourt/1999/2ndDistrict/July/HTML/2980948.htm

Defense counsel for the auto mfgs aren’t the only ones playing fast and loose. In my experience, they aren’t even the usual one playing fast and loose. Where the American rule of “loser pays” has been perverted by state Lemon Laws and the Magnusson Moss Warranty Act, there is no disincentive penalyzing plaintiff counsel for needless or groundless litigation. “In terrorem” litigation rules there, at least as much as it does in class actions – the death of a thousand cuts is an often apt analogy. What few losses plaintiff counsel suffer are more than compensated for by lodestar adjustments to their already inflated fee requests.

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