Cover-ups. Personal injury lawyers here in Syracuse, Central New York, and everywhere, love them. We play them for all they are worth. Think about those big tobacco lawsuits. Would those smokers have rung the bell with those big pain and suffering verdicts without evidence that the tobacco industry had covered up what they knew about smoking and cancer? Nothing makes a jury madder than a cover up. And nothing pushes the size of a personal injury verdict up more than raw anger.
This blog post is about the Toyota defective pedal dilemma. But first, let me digress (again!).
In a Syracuse New York personal injury lawsuit I handled a few years ago, the insurance company hired an expert witness, an orthopedic doctor, to testify that my client’s lower back injury was pre-existing and therefore not caused by her slip and fall on the defendant-restaurant’s wet floor. He based this opinion in part on the fact that my client had not complained about lower back pain until two weeks after the fall. He was wrong and I knew it. My client had reported back pain at the emergency room. I noticed, when I looked at the list of records the doctor claimed to have reviewed in reaching his opinion, that a key record was missing — the emergency room records. So my cross-examination of the doctor was all about a “cover up”. I insinuated that the insurance company had “covered up” this ER report, that they had deliberately hidden it from the doctor. Maybe they didn’t. Maybe it was an innocent mistake. But the cross-examination was brutal, and the insurance company lawyer knew it. A large personal injury settlement soon resulted.
My point: Cover-ups piss juries off!
Now back to Toyota (finally!). Congress has apparently gotten its hands on “secret” Toyota documents from a turncoat former Toyota lawyer. Apparently, these secrete documents show that Toyota’s own investigators had knowledge of the sticking pedal defect yet covered it up.
A cover-up is a game-changer for a personal injury case. The main issue becomes, what did they know and when did they know it? If Toyota can show it made efforts to investigate the sticking-pedal problem, and then to resolve it, and did not drag its feet, and especially that it did not cover up its findings, it will fair much better in court. But if the jury smells a cover up, all bets are off. Toyota can expect a string of large verdicts against it, maybe with punitive damages to boot. So, Toyota, if you have “covered up”, get ready to “pay up”!