Toyota Whistleblower Found Liable for Unauthorized Disclosure To Pay $2.6M


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A California attorney who “blew the whistle” on Toyota Motor Corporation’s act of withholding of evidence in the rollover cases has been ordered to pay damages amounting to $2.6 million to the automaker for unauthorized disclosure of confidential information.

Dimitrios P. Biller, who worked as an in-house lawyer for Toyota for 4 years, handled the lawsuits against the company where several rollover accidents were blamed on faulty manufacturing.

When he left Toyota in 2007 and subsequently established his own company, he revealed confidential and internal documents from the automaker and even publicized it in his website, seminars, media interviews, and even sent documents to a court in Texas. He claimed that he divulged the confidential information because of public safety and should be protected under the various state and federal laws as a whistleblower.

However, the arbitrator, retired federal Judge Gary Taylor said that while Biller did act as a whistleblower, he did not have the right to disseminate a client’s confidential information. According to Taylor, the legal concept of attorney-client privilege is not defeated by Biller’s defense that the information is a matter of public safety. To wit, the retired judge wrote, “Mr. Biller is still bound by a greater rule: the attorney’s underlying fundamental duty to safeguard his client’s confidences.”

Toyota claimed that it suffered real and extensive damage due to the disclosure and was awarded $2.5 million for unauthorized disclosures of confidential information and $100,000 in punitive damages. 

Generally, whistleblowers are indeed protected under different laws such as Whistleblower Protection Act of 1989, Sarbanes-Oxley Act, False Claims Act (FCA), and the newly enacted Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act –there are exemptions such as:

  • In the case of Garcetti v. Ceballos, government employees are not protected from retaliation in their performance evaluations because of free speech under the First Amendment.
  • Attorney-client privilege

The attorney-client privilege is a long-recognized protection of confidential communications between a lawyer and his client. In fact, in California, the attorney's confidential communications regardless of whether they contain, refer to or reveal the client's communications are protected. Thus, an attorney revealing a client’s personal business or confidential information regardless of whether he is employed or not, can be held liable. He may be reprimanded by the bar or disbarred or even made to pay damages to his client because such act of violating the attorney-client privilege is a breach of fiduciary responsibilities.

For more questions on attorney-client privileges, non-disclosure agreements, or ways to keep your company’s confidential information safe, seek the advice of California business lawyers. You may call Mesriani Law Group at our toll free number at 1-866-325-4529 or email us at info@mesriani.com.

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