Every year, millions of defective vehicles are placed under recall, but in many cases, the damage has already been done. Improper design and manufacturing puts drivers, passengers and pedestrians at risk.
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Every year, millions of vehicles are recalled – often due to defective safety features. In recent years, American drivers have become increasingly aware that auto manufacturers and parts suppliers can make big mistakes in both manufacturing and design, errors that jeopardize millions of lives.
For many drivers, a prompt recall is a life-saver. But for some, the harm posed by a faulty airbag or defective seatbelt has already been done. Hundreds have suffered severe personal injuries from the defective airbags manufactured by Takata. A software glitch in GM vehicles has left at least one person dead and three others injured so far.
Manufacturers have a simple duty: provide consumers with safe products. When they fail to uphold this duty, some companies will issue a recall in order to prevent further harm. But recalling an unsafe product, whether it’s a children’s toy or an airbag, does not provide manufacturers with some sort of legal immunity.
People who are injured by consumer products, whether or not those products have been recalled, have every right to file an airbag injury lawsuit against negligent manufacturers.
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Airbags made by the Japanese auto supplier Takata can overinflate and explode in the event of a crash, sending metal fragments hurtling into drivers and passengers.
More than 100 people have already been injured, and at least 14 have died. The fatal incidents have been confined to Honda vehicles, Bloomberg reports, but injuries are spread evenly over nearly two dozen car manufacturers.
Four-fifths of the world’s airbag inflators are manufactured by just four companies. Takata, the Japanese giant, is joined by Swedish company Autoliv, American manufacturer TRW and another Japanese corporation, Daicel.
Tens of millions of vehicles, marketed under almost 24 different brand names, have been recalled so far. It’s the largest and most complex safety recall ever initiated in the United States, ballooning from only six makes in April 2013 – when Takata initially announced the defect – to 1 in 8 vehicles in America today.
The recall effort has not gone smoothly. Although nearly 70 million vehicles have been recalled, only around 10 million have received replacement airbags so far. Millions of drivers will have to wait for months before getting a replacement.
Meanwhile, Takata and Honda have been accused of concealing the airbag’s defects – including reports of injuries and death – from federal authorities and the public. In a damning investigation, the New York Times discovered evidence that both companies were aware of airbag explosions as early as 2004. As devastating incidents piled up, and vehicle owners continued to suffer, Takata quietly settled individual injury claims. The first recall, a voluntary one issued by Honda, wasn’t announced until 2008. When that recall eventually came, it only covered 4,200 vehicles – a minuscule fraction of the vehicles installed with Takata’s deadly airbags.
The company’s President, Shigehisa Takada, has now publicly apologized. At a press conference in Tokyo, Takada said “I apologize for not having been able to communicate directly earlier, and also apologize for people who died or were injured.” But Takata isn’t ready to establish a compensation fund for those injured people.
In 2014, General Motors set up a $595 million compensation fund for victims injured due to a faulty ignition switch. The fund has paid out at least 399 death and personal injury claims to date. Senator Richard Blumenthal, a Democrat from Connecticut, called on Takata to establish a similar fund in June 2016.
Takata rejected Blumenthal’s suggestion, saying that “a national compensation fund is not currently required.” While the company isn’t ruling out a fund in the future, senior management believes that, for now, the litigation of individual personal injury claims should be sufficient to address the needs of injured victims.
Blumenthal isn’t happy about Takata’s decision, the Wall Street Journal reports. “I am astonished and deeply disappointed by Takata’s refusal to establish a victim’s compensation fund,” the Senator said in a statement. “I will press Takata to reconsider this callous misjudgment, and do right by the innocent victims of its harm.”
Selling cars with defective Takata airbags is still legal, and many companies appear to have no intention of slowing their sales. Toyota, Volkswagen, Fiat Chrysler and Mitsibushi are all putting new vehicles – with defective Takata airbags – on the market. So are Ferrari and Mercedes-Benz, according to CNET. The companies know that these cars, too, will need to be recalled eventually, but for the time being, they’re willing to let them sit on the lot.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administrations considers Takata airbags a serious safety risk – but that risk isn’t immediate. Since it takes time for the airbags to deteriorate, there’s little government regulators can do to ban their sale.
It’s “bizarre on multiple levels,” says Karl Brauer, an analyst at Kelley Blue Book. “Multiple mainstream automakers essentially know that they are selling cars that already have a defective part in them. And it’s not a defective windshield wiper or sun visor hinge. It’s an airbag, a primary safety device.” Brauer, who spoke to the New York Times in June 2016, thinks that, at the least, these automakers should be forced to disclose which vehicles are receiving Takata airbags. Currently, there’s no legal requirement to that effect.
But some auto manufacturers, of their own accord, have begun warning potential customers. Toyota, for example, has instructed its dealerships to notify customers of which vehicles are installed with Takata’s potentially-deadly airbags before a sale is complete.
General Motors (GM) has recalled over 3.6 million vehicles, after notifying the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration that a software problem in 20 of the company’s vehicles could unexpectedly deactivate safety features, including airbag deployment and seat belts.
As of September 12, 2016, the software defect had been linked to at least one death and three injuries, CBS News reports.
Vehicles sold under the brands Buick, Cadillac, Chevrolet and GMC are affected:
In a filing with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, the Detroit-based auto manufacturer said that a software bug could shift the vehicles into a “test mode,” deactivating the front airbags in an accident. The glitch could also affect seat belt function, GM says. In effect, the cars can suddenly – and unnecessarily – initiate a diagnostic test, during which the safety features become inactivated.
“A failure of the front air bags or seat belt pretensioners to deploy in the event of a crash necessitating deployment[,] increasing the risk of injury to the driver and the front passenger.”
Reports suggest that GM became aware of the issue in May 2016, after a 2014 Chevy Silverado crashed – but failed to deploy its airbags. The company contacted Delphi, the supplier that coded the diagnostic module software. After testing the product, and confirming that the problem could suddenly deactivate airbags, GM quickly decided to recall the affected vehicles.
A simple software update, which is being offered free of charge, should be sufficient to fix the problem. General Motors says auto dealerships already have the update available.
Toyota has announced a recall of over 1.4 million cars with defectively-manufactured airbags. While no injuries have become public, reports have surfaced of airbags deploying spontaneously in parked cars, shooting metal shards into the cabin.
A small crack can develop in the airbag’s inflator, USA Today says, leading to only partial inflation in the event of a crash. The problem is confined to side-curtain airbags, which are designed to protect drivers and passengers in side-impact collisions.
These airbags weren’t manufactured by Takata, although it’s illuminating that Toyota executives felt the need to make that clear in a press release. While the company was reticent at first, declining to make public which company had manufactured the faulty airbags, Swedish auto supplier Autoliv soon stepped forward.
Autoliv, however, isn’t accepting responsibility. As the New York Times reports, the company says that poor welding on the airbag’s inflator – carried out by a subcontractor – was to blame. Autoliv says there have been seven documented cases of a side curtain airbag inflating partially in a crash, but no injuries yet. Like the defective Takata airbags, Autoliv believes the risk of a partial airbag deployment is highest in humid regions.
Toyota has attempted to distance its own airbag problems from the Takata crisis – noting that the defect in Prius and Lexus models appears to be a problem of manufacturing, not design. Many observers, on the other hand, believe these recent recalls speak to widespread manufacturing and design problems in the airbag industry.
Mazda has recalled nearly 42,000 vehicles, all 2009 and 2010 Mazda6 sedans, because the airbag control unit’s protective coating was applied improperly. The cars, manufactured between February 4, 2008 and December 3, 2009, could lead to serious injury in the event of a crash.
Per the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, “failure of the [airbag control unit] would illuminate the airbag warning light and prevent the airbags from deploying in the event of a crash, increasing the risk of injury.”
Mazda dealerships will replace the vehicle’s airbag control unit free of charge. Parts for the repair, however, are not available yet. In the meantime, Mazda intends to send vehicle owners an interim notice on October 3, 2016. A second notification will be sent when replacement parts become available.
Fiat Chrysler is recalling an estimated 1.9 million vehicles, 1.4 million in the US, over a fault that could prevent the airbags and automatic seat-belt restraints from functioning in a crash. Fiat Chrysler has not publicized the manufacturer of the faulty components, according to CNN.
The defect, present in various Chrysler, Dodge and Jeep vehicles made between 2010 and 2014, has been linked to at least 3 deaths and five injuries. In a statement, Fiat Chrysler said, “the condition may occur when vehicles equipped with a particular occupant-restraint control module and front-impact sensor wiring of a specific design are involved in certain collisions.”
Jeep, Dodge and Chrysler dealerships will fix the problem, Edmunds.com reports, although Fiat Chrysler has not yet announced a date for the recall to officially begin.
Nissan North America has issued a voluntary recall for over 152,000 Versa sedans and hatchbacks, along with a number of Infiniti vehicles. The cars are equipped with air bag inflators that can suddenly explode in the event of a crash. Echoing the ongoing Takata airbag crisis, investigators at the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration say that a propellant used to inflate the airbag can degrade after long-term exposure to humidity and temperature fluctuations. No word, however, has yet been released as to whether the Nissan airbags were manufactured by Takata.
Due to regional variations in temperature and humidity, Nissan’s recent recall has been divided into three “zones” of relative danger.
2012 Nissan Versa hatchbacks originally sold, or ever registered, in:
Infinit M35 and M45 (2009 – 2010); Nissan Versa sedans and hatchbacks (2009) originally sold, or ever registered, in:
Infiniti FX35 and FX45 (2005 – 2008); Infiniti M35 and M45 (2006 – 2010); Nissan Versa (2007 – 2008) originally sold, or ever registered, in:
Nissan has said that drivers will soon be notified formally of the recall. Dealerships have been tapped to replace the front passenger-side airbag inflators in affected vehicles, but no timetable for repairs has been announced.
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National Highway Traffic Safety Administration: https://www.nhtsa.gov/equipment/takata-recall-spotlight/
My GM Recalls: https://my.gm.com/recalls
NHTSA Report: https://www.nhtsa.gov/takata-recall-spotlight/takata-monitor-third-report