Hawaii, Mexico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands announced in May 2018 that they have settled claims against Takata Corp. for $7 million for endangering their citizens with airbags Takata knew were unsafe. They join 44 other states and the District of Columbia, which settled with Takata in February 2018 for $650 million. Together with the $1 billion criminal penalty the U.S. Department of Justice assessed in January 2017, these newest settlements resolve all government claims against the now-bankrupt company.
Takata airbags contain volatile ammonium nitrate as a propellant causes overpressurization that can rupture the canister, or inflator, housing the propellant, spewing metal fragments into the occupant compartment. At least 23 people have died worldwide and hundreds have been injured.
The states sued Takata and Honda in 2016 after learning that Honda had been quietly recalling small groups of vehicles containing the airbags, and settling lawsuits, since 2008 without informing the public that airbags made since 2001 had a propensity to explode. In fact, after the first two deaths occurred in 2009, Honda and Takata represented to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) that there was an anomaly that affected only a small subset of inflators and had been resolved long ago, despite knowledge that other ruptures had occurred in vehicles outside that timeframe. The states also sued Toyota, Nissan, and Ford for their earlier knowledge about safety concerns with the airbags.
In 2016, documents produced as part of lawsuits showed that Takata had been manipulating and falsifying test data to conceal the fact that multiple types of their inflators had ruptured during testing since 1999. That prompted criminal charges against Takata and three of its Japanese executives with wire fraud and conspiracy. In January 2017, Takata agreed to pay $1 billion in criminal penalties, including $125 million to create a fund for victims and $850 million to reimburse automakers for recall and replacement costs.
In February 2018, the Michigan attorney general announced that 44 states and the District of Columbia had settled with Takata for $650 million. Because Takata had filed for bankruptcy and had mounting debts, the states agreed to defer the penalty to allow individual victims to be compensated for their injuries.
Finally, in May 2018, Hawaii, which was the first state to sue Takata; New Mexico; and the U.S. Virgin Islands settled for $7 million. They are still pursuing their claims against the automakers. Takata and multiple automakers, including Honda, Nissan, Toyota, and Ford, have also settled lawsuits alleging personal injuries and lost value with vehicles containing the deadly airbags. Suits against other automakers are pending. Millions of the airbags remain in vehicles and continue to cause injury and death.