Takata started using ammonium nitrate, a cheap but highly volatile chemical, to inflate its airbags in the late 1990s. Just a few years later some of those airbags began shooting metal shrapnel at people—and causing serious injuries and deaths.
The airbag defect remained largely hidden for over a decade through confidential settlements. That changed in 2014, when cases began to be filed in court rather than secretly settled. Newsome Melton was at the forefront, bringing a case against Takata and Honda in Lake County, Florida that summer. The Burdick case caught Senator Nelson’s attention, who then went on to lead the charge on the Congressional investigation into the defect.
Flash forward to today. It’s been nearly a decade since the Burdick case was filed. Yet we continue to see millions of the defective airbags on the road and recalls still piling up. Here’s a quick recap of where things stand now.
Takata Airbags continue to maim and kill with no clear end in sight
Takata airbags have been connected to at least 37 deaths worldwide, with 19 of those deaths—along with more than 400 injuries—occurring in the United States alone. And while roughly 67 million Takata airbags have been recalled, about 17 million have not been replaced. This means that the problem is not going away anytime soon.
Indeed, last year Ford and General Motors had the highest number of recalls amongst all automakers in the US—due, in large part, to Takata airbags. GM’s airbag recalls encompassed 6.7 million vehicles in 2021, with Ford clocking in at 2.8 million. Notably, both companies had fought against NHTSA’s efforts to recall certain vehicles with potentially defective Takata airbags for several years.
But it’s not just GM and Ford. According to the latest data made public by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), open recalls also exist for vehicles made by Honda/Acura, Chrysler, Toyota, Subaru, BMW, Nissan, Volkswagen, Mazda, Mercedes-Benz, Daimler Vans, Mitsubishi, Jaguar/Land Rover, Tesla, and Ferrari.
The early years of the Takata litigation: complexity and multiple forums
Our firm has been continuously involved in the Takata airbag litigation from the time we filed the Burdick case back in 2014 through today. The litigation has grown increasingly complex along the way.
The first major development was the establishment of the multi-district litigation (MDL). An MDL is a special tool available to federal courts which allow them to group cases together for discovery. In this case, the Takata-airbag related cases were joined together down in the Southern District of Florida. The MDL initially included all cases involving Takata’s ammonium nitrate airbags—including both class actions asserting that the recalls affected the vehicles’ economic value, as well as personal injury and wrongful death cases. Over time, the MDL has shifted to focus on economic loss cases, with personal injury and wrongful death cases being sent back to their local district courts.
The second major development was Takata’s bankruptcy. As part of that proceeding, the Bankruptcy Court approved an unprecedented “channeling injunction.” Ordinarily, only the company declaring bankruptcy gets protection from being sued in the future. A channeling injunction extends that protection to include other companies that never declared bankruptcy. In this case, the Takata channeling injunction extended bankruptcy protection to Honda/Acura, and later Nissan/Infiniti.
As a result of the channeling injunction, litigating a Takata case is far more complex than the average products liability case. The plaintiff’s attorney must know how to successfully navigate multiple different forums. Each forum has its own unique rules, evidentiary requirements, and other distinct considerations. And the failure to achieve success in any one of those forums means that the victim and their families could be denied the full financial compensation they need to put their lives back together.
The Takata litigation continues to evolve today
The claims and defenses in the Takata litigation have expanded along with the recalls. The automaker defendants are now quick to rely on the media coverage and recall campaigns as a defense. They argue that consumers are already on notice, and that it’s their fault for not getting the airbags replaced. We’ve seen this defense play out multiple times now and have developed the knowledge and arguments necessary to combat it.
The expansive nature of the recall has also resulted in liability extending to other parties under certain circumstances. For example, some service shops, used car dealers, and rental agencies have ignored recalls, resulting in vehicles being provided to consumers who had no idea there were ticking hand grenades in their steering wheels. For example, our firm recently won a victory in federal court by successfully stating a claim against a used car dealer for selling a vehicle with an open Takata airbag recall.
The claims, defenses, and potential defendants in Takata airbag cases will continue to change as the recalls and litigation continue. Staying on top of these developments will be critical to obtaining full and fair recoveries for the victims.
The Takata airbag debacle has no clear end in sight. The defective airbags will very likely continue hurting and killing people, just as it’s very likely that more vehicles will be recalled. And there’s no reason to suspect that Takata cases will become less complex any time soon. Instead, if recent history is any indicator, the complexity of these cases will only increase along with the continuing recalls, injuries, and deaths.
The bottom line is that the victims and their families need experienced attorneys with intricate knowledge of the Takata litigation to maximize their recoveries. These are not the type of cases you want to wade into without counsel that is well-versed in the issue. Newsome Melton has gained the necessary knowledge and experience over the course of nearly a decade of litigating Takata airbag cases. We’ve been at the front of the litigation since it began. We will continue to be at the front for as long as Takata airbags go on hurting and killing people.
Please give us a call if you, your loved one, or one of your clients has been hurt or killed by a Takata airbag.
We’re always happy to consult with you, free of charge, about your case and how to best move forward.