In the largest automotive recall in history, 19 automakers have so far recalled 37 million vehicles with 50 million Takata airbags that have been linked to 23 deaths and hundreds of injuries worldwide. The Takata airbags in question contain the chemical compound ammonium nitrate, which is used as a propellant that is housed in a canister, or inflator, in the steering wheel or behind the passenger dash, rapidly generating gas to inflate the airbag cushion during a crash. Ammonium nitrate is volatile and highly sensitive to moisture and heat which can cause the chemical to create too much pressure too quickly and rupture the canister, spewing metal fragments into the vehicle and occupants.
In a plea agreement to settle criminal charges against the company, Takata admitted that from the beginning, when the ammonium nitrate propellant was first designed and tested, through the entire run of their production, ruptures and aggressive deployments occurred in testing. Takata concealed some of these test failures from the automakers, manipulating the data to make the airbags appear less volatile.
Although some of the test results were manipulated, the automakers are not blameless and some were even complicit in the defect: BMW has known of the rupture danger since 2003, when a driver airbag in a BMW in Switzerland ruptured, and Toyota and Nissan have known since 2009, when passenger airbags began rupturing in Japanese scrapyards. Nonetheless, they did not start recalling their airbags in the United States until 2013 and then did so only incrementally for the next several years. Ford refused to conduct full recalls on its vehicles for years, leading to a 2015 rupture in an unrecalled airbag in a 2006 Ford Ranger which killed the driver – Ford was aware the same type of inflator had previously killed a pregnant driver in Malaysia. Ford continues to seek extensions on its deadlines for replacing all recalled airbags. GM, which had two driver airbag ruptures caused by a manufacturing defect, continues to assert that its airbags are safe and do not require a replacement.
In January 2017, the New York Times revealed that in the late 1990s, Takata competitor Autoliv tested the inflators after GM threatened to switch its business to Takata because ammonium nitrate was so much cheaper. Several of the inflators exploded during testing, and Autoliv warned GM and several other automakers about the dangers. Nonetheless, the automakers switched to Takata for many of their airbags.
But one automaker stands out in its complicity with Takata: Honda has known of the dangers of Takata airbags since their inception. In a report to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, Takata confirmed that Honda was present when the first ammonium nitrate inflators ruptured in design validation testing. Honda insisted Takata use “batwing” shaped propellant wafers even though Takata warned this shape would cause even more volatility. The first rupture in a Honda vehicle occurred in 2004, seriously injuring the driver. Despite witnessing similar ruptures in early testing, Honda agreed to consider the rupture an anomaly requiring no further action. When more ruptures began occurring in 2007, injuring several drivers, Honda agreed to recall only a small number of vehicles. Even after two people died in 2009, Honda continued to install ammonium nitrate inflators from Takata, including through 2016 models, and slowly and incrementally initiated recalls adding more and more models, but only after ruptures continued to injure owners. It was not until December 2014 – seven years after the wave of ruptures began – that Honda, under pressure from Congress and public scrutiny, agreed to issue nationwide recalls of multiple models and years.
Numerous lawsuits have been filed against Takata, alleging it knew its products were defective and that the defect could harm people but did not recall them in a timely manner and stop producing them.
As a result of an agreement in Takata’s bankruptcy case, any lawsuits filed related to injuries in Honda and Acura vehicles will be channeled into a special proceeding, in which damages will be determined using a formula based on injury severity. Claims against other manufacturers will proceed through the normal legal process. Takata and the automakers also reached various settlements with plaintiffs in a massive Multi-District Litigation, a combination of lawsuits alleging that because of the dangerous airbags, their vehicles were worth less than they paid for them.
If you suffered injuries or lost a loved one because of a defective Takata airbag, you may be eligible to file a lawsuit against Takata, your automaker, or other parties. At Newsome Melton, our product liability lawyers know how to guide you.
We offer free case evaluations and can help you recover the full value of the damages you deserve. We also operate on a contingency fee basis, so you pay no legal fees unless we win the payout you deserve. Call us today: 888-808-5977.
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