In May 2016, the U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reported the required recall of another 35 to 40 million Takata airbags assembled by 17 automakers. This was in addition to a previous 24 million vehicles with 28.8 million Takata airbag inflators by 14 automakers. This doubled what was already the largest recall in American history.
The necessary recall stems from an inherent design flaw that causes the inflators to explode with too much force when deployed in a crash. The excess force from the Takata airbags sends shrapnel shooting into a vehicle’s cabin, causing potentially lethal injuries for the driver and any passengers. As of July 2016, these faulty Takata airbag inflators have been linked to 14 deaths worldwide.
The issue resides in Takata’s usage of a compound known as ammonium nitrate, which is known to become unstable over time when exposed to moisture–the vast majority of failed airbags have been in the coastal states of Florida, Hawaii, and California. This compound has been a long frustration with the airbag manufacturer, with Takata finally adding a specialized drying agent to make it ultimately more stable. Those vehicles that are being recalled do not have airbags equipped with the new drying agent.
However, despite internal documents showing concerns as early as 2000, the Japanese parts maker did not admit the compound’s temperamental issues until May 2015. Some of these uncovered communications detail a top-down conspiracy by executives to destroy questionable test results and dispose of faulty inflators while simultaneously maintaining that the product was safe.
The NHTSA has since given Takata until the end of 2018 to prove that the new airbag inflators utilizing the drying agent are safe and has imposed a $70 million penalty with a potential $60 million increase if the company fails to meet the new terms.
Meanwhile, both states and individuals are going on the offensive to recoup damages and pain and suffering caused by Takata airbags. In May 2016, Hawaii became the first state to file a lawsuit against Takata of Japan and its American subsidiary. Last week, Takata Corp. settled a lawsuit with a Florida woman who was left a quadriplegic after the company’s airbag inflator deployed in her vehicle during an otherwise minor 2014 vehicular accident. Since 2014, the company has additionally been subject to a criminal investigation by the US Justice Department.
If you have been injured or lost a loved one due to a defective airbag, please contact our Los Angeles office today.