Despite a flurry of filings almost a year ago, and despite best efforts by the plaintiffs and the courts, litigation involving defective Takata airbags is moving forward at a snail’s pace. At issue are over 30 million airbags installed in cars made by eleven different manufacturers in what has become the largest recall in automotive history. For our friends who are interested in following this issue, here is a brief update on the status of the litigation:
More Injuries, More Deaths
Since last fall there have been more reported injuries and deaths. Like other major automotive defects in the past, there will likely continue to be more people hurt and killed by Takata airbags for the foreseeable future despite the recall. This is especially true because there are still many hundreds of thousands of vehicles on the road that have recalled airbags that have not yet been replaced.
For liability purposes, the most clear cut cases are those involving injuries caused by metal shrapnel from exploded airbag inflators. A second theory of liability involves cases where an occupant has suffered a blunt trauma injury that is out of proportion to the severity of the particular crash. With the right facts, both injury scenarios may be viable for purposes of a potential injury claim against Takata. Because both types of injuries are likely to continue to occur, there will likely be more lawsuits filed during the years ahead.
State Court Coalition
There are approximately 20 personal injury cases pending in state courts across the country involving allegedly defective Takata airbags. Most of the law firms representing these clients in state courts have joined together in a voluntary coalition to help coordinate discovery and cooperate in the prosecution of the state court injury cases. These efforts include attempts to coordinate state court corporate representative depositions and document review.
The State Court Coalition has made several attempts through various cases to set coordinated state court corporate representative depositions. Although this continues to be a moving target, Honda and Takata corporate representative depositions will most likely start taking place this fall.
Prior to last fall, and before wide spread media attention about the rolling Takata recall and related Senate hearings, several dozen Takata injury cases had settled quietly for confidential amounts. During the last month, Takata and Honda have been pushing to try to settle all of the “shrapnel” injury cases which are presently filed.
Our law firm represented 10 individual clients who had shrapnel type injuries which recently all resolved. It appears that Honda and Takata will continue to try to resolve the remaining shrapnel injury cases which are presently filed, while most likely taking a more aggressive approach to the blunt trauma “overly aggressive airbag” injury cases.
Multi District Litigation
As we’ve discussed here on our site several times in the past, last fall over eighty class action cases were filed, which mainly sought economic damages for the diminished value of the affected vehicles. These class cases – along with some personal injury cases which were filed in federal court – were consolidated into a federal Multi District Litigation in Miami before Judge Frederico Marino. Although the Defendants have produced documents in the MDL in response to discovery requests, no depositions have been set or taken to date. Moreover, the defendants recently filed a motion to stay the MDL, arguing that the MDL should not go forward until the NHTSA has finished its ongoing investigation.
State Court Injury Cases
Like in the MDL, no depositions have taken place in any of the state court injury cases. However, some of the state court cases are moving forward aggressively, with plaintiff’s attorneys most likely to begin taking corporate representative depositions in October and November.
Procedurally, the case which is presently the most advanced is Mincey v. Takata, which is pending in Jacksonville, Florida before Circuit Court Judge Daniel. Mincey involves a woman who was rendered quadriplegic when her Takata airbag fired during a crash. Although she was belted, the complaint alleges that the airbag was “overly aggressive,” resulting in her injuries.
Back in June, Judge Daniel considered Honda and Takata’s motion to stay the case pending completion of discovery in the MDL. Our firm filed an amicus brief and appeared for the State Court coalition. We argued that discovery should not be stayed, and that instead the court should allow the State Court Coalition to proceed with coordinated discovery separate and apart from the MDL. The defendants argued vigorously that the state court plaintiffs should be forced to coordinate their discovery through the MDL.
Judge Daniel recognized that because there were 11 original equipment manufacturers involved in the MDL litigation, and because the state court plaintiffs were willing to voluntarily coordinate taking corporate representative depositions, it made sense to allow the state court discovery to move forward. Judge Daniel ordered the plaintiffs and the defendants to meet and try to agree on deposition dates and a discovery calendar. He also ordered a subsequent follow-up hearing to take place on July 8.
In a surprise move, and with no notice to the plaintiff or to the Coalition, Honda and Takata removed the Mincey case to federal court on the day before the follow-up hearing. The plaintiffs then filed a motion with the District Court in Jacksonville seeking to remand the case back to state court.
On August 25, 2015, in what was seen as a big win for the plaintiff, Federal Judge Brian Davis remanded Mincey back to Judge Daniel. Judge Davis’ Order found that the defendants failed to show “that they had an objectively reasonable basis for removing the case.”
Subsequent to the remand Judge Daniel held another case management hearing and again took up the issue of discovery. He ordered that all depositions must be completed in Mincey on or before December 11, 2015. Now that the case is back before Judge Daniel, it is likely that Mincey may be the first Takata case to go to trial, perhaps as soon as next summer.