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Ex-Toyota Lawyer Raises New Issue

A former in-house lawyer for Toyota alleged Wednesday that the automaker's unintended acceleration issues are caused by electronics snafus in cars, not just floor-mat jams and sticky gas pedals.

"It's the electronic throttle control," said Dimitrios Biller, who worked for Toyota from 2003 to 2007 defending against rollover accident lawsuits, in an interview with ABC News.

Biller is suing Toyota, alleging that it withheld data in civil lawsuits and from the government, and is being countersued by the automaker.

In his first interview since filing his lawsuit last fall, he said he learned of the electronics glitches while he was a lawyer for Toyota and said his evidence for that would still be considered privileged.

Toyota has said it has no evidence that cars' electronics are the cause of the problem that is the subject of complaints to safety regulators alleging accidents, deaths and injuries.

Its two recalls covering more than 5 million vehicles -- one to deal with floor mats that jam under accelerators, the other to fix sticky gas pedals -- will fix the problem, Toyota contends.

Last month, it stopped selling eight models until they could be repaired.

As for Biller's latest allegation, Toyota said Biller "did not handle unwanted-acceleration cases" and "continues to make inaccurate and misleading allegations about Toyota's conduct that we strongly dispute."

At the Chicago Auto Show media preview Wednesday, Toyota was blanketed with questions about its recalls, overshadowing its unveiling of a new version of its full-size Avalon sedan.

"I can tell you for years we have exhaustively tested these systems," said Bob Carter, the vice president in charge of the Toyota brand in the U.S. "There is simply nothing there to say electronic controls are causing the problems. ... We have exhaustively tested every scenario."

Lingering doubts about Toyota safety are turning away customers. A study by Kelley Blue Book finds 27% who were considering a Toyota for their next vehicle purchase before the latest recall say they are no longer interested. Doubts are extending, too, to Toyota's Scion youth-oriented brand and the Lexus luxury label.

Biller, who left Toyota with a $3.9 million settlement, alleges in federal court filings here that the automaker didn't properly disclose data in 300 rollover lawsuits.

Toyota has countersued, alleging that Biller is violating attorney-client privilege and terms of his settlement.


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