Installed with defective – and deadly – airbags manufactured by the Japanese auto supplier Takata, nearly 70 million vehicles have now been recalled. Due to a dangerous chemical propellant, the airbags can over-inflate upon impact and explode, hurling shards of metal into a vehicle’s cabin.
Takata-made airbags have been linked to at least 14 deaths, and hundreds of serious personal injuries.
After Takata Airbags Explode, Victims File Lawsuits
Numerous injured drivers have already filed personal injury lawsuits against Takata, accusing the company of hiding evidence from federal regulators and callously placing vehicle owners at risk of serious harm. These severely injured vehicle owners and passengers have been joined by a number of families, who blame the Japanese corporation for injuries that led to the death of a loved one.
Reports suggest that Takata has settled the majority of these personal injury and wrongful death lawsuits, including lawsuits filed as early as 2007. While the company has been reluctant to admit liability, legal experts believe that hefty financial settlements are likely in coming months. Many of the lawsuits have been filed against Takata and a vehicle manufacturer, most notably Honda. There is compelling evidence that Honda is settling these cases, too.
Only one settlement amount, however, has been publicized. The lawsuit was filed on behalf of a woman who was killed when her Honda Accord airbag exploded in a crash. In 2013, Takata settled the claim for $3 million, according to Bloomberg. But with more recent revelations, including evidence that Takata was aware of its airbags’ defects, the woman’s family is hoping to have her case reopened.
Who Can File A Takata Airbag Injury Lawsuit?
Anyone who was injured by a Takata-made airbag may be eligible to file a lawsuit against the company. In the event of a loved one’s death, family members may be able to file a wrongful death lawsuit against Takata.
Is your car part of the Takata recall? To find out if your vehicle is one of the 70 million recalled cars with defective Takata airbags, click here. The vast majority of Takata airbag lawsuits have been filed over catastrophic injuries or deaths. While most of the reported explosions have occurred during collisions, including minor accidents, reports of spontaneous airbag ruptures have also surfaced.
Our experienced product liability attorneys are now investigating potential Takata airbag explosion lawsuits. We offer free consultations to anyone who believes that their own injuries, or those inflicted on a loved one, may have been caused by one of Takata’s dangerous airbags.
Chemical Propellant Blamed For Explosions
After years of investigation, federal regulators now believe they have pinned down the cause of Takata airbag explosions. The airbag’s inflator uses a chemical known as ammonium nitrate, which can degrade over time, especially when exposed to increased humidity and temperature fluctuations. Once degraded, the chemical propellant can burn too quickly, rupturing the airbag’s inflator module and shooting metal shrapnel into a vehicle’s occupants.
The risk of explosion is highest, according to the NHTSA, in areas of the country that register high humidities, like the Gulf Coast states:
- Southern California
At least two fatal crashes have been reported outside of the United States. Both accidents occurred in Malaysia, a tropical climate where average humidities vary from 84% to 88%. In one of these deadly cases, surviving family members filed suit against Takata and secured a confidential settlement in 2015.
Takata has been the subject of a federal criminal investigation since 2014. In late 2015, the company was fined $70 million and ordered to eliminate ammonium nitrate from new inflators. Months earlier, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration had imposed a daily fine of $14,000 on the company for failing to cooperate with the agency’s investigation.
Takata Recall Delayed For Years
The first recall, issued voluntarily by Honda in November of 2008, was limited to just 4,000 Accord and Civic vehicles. Despite acknowledging that the inflators in Takata airbags could rupture violently, the company only expanded its recall in 2010.
After a series of explosions, which left drivers severely injured, Honda expanded its recall again, adding thousands of Acura vehicles to the mix. By 2013, Toyota, Nissan and Mazda had issued their own recalls, asking vehicle owners to return an unprecedented 3.4 million vehicles worldwide. BMW followed soon after, with Toyota ramping up its own efforts.
But Takata was still unwilling to join the global effort, refusing to issue a recall of the airbags themselves. In the face of all signs to the contrary, Takata announced that there was no indication of a safety defect on June 11, 2014. Only 15 days later, the company’s CEO would apologize to shareholders – but not the public – for Takata’s falling stock price.
Airbag Risks Known In 2004, Former Takata Employees Say
Takata only acknowledged that its airbags were defective in May of 2015, nearly 7 years after Honda had announced the first recall. But recent investigations suggest that company officials, along with executives at Honda, were well aware of the airbag risks for more than a decade.
In 2004, a Takata-made airbag ruptured in Alabama, spraying the vehicle’s occupant with metal fragments. Alarmed by reports of the incident, Takata employees went out and found 50 airbags sitting in US scrapyards – hoping to test the airbags’ structural integrity. These tests, according to a damning New York Times report, were kept secret, conducted after work hours and on weekends at the company’s American headquarters in Michigan.
In at least two of the tested airbags, the inflator cracked violently, creating conditions for a devastating rupture. But instead of reporting the potential defect to federal regulatory officials, executives at Takata “ordered the lab technicians to delete the testing data from their computers and dispose of the airbag inflators in the trash,” former employees told the Times.
Last-Minute Settlement In Quadriplegia Death Case
On July 15, 2016, word broke that Takata had settled another lawsuit. The company has been quick to settle most injury and death lawsuits, but legal observers weren’t sure how the company would respond to a case that did not involve an outright explosion.
Patricia Mincey was paralyzed from the neck down, becoming a quadriplegic, when a Takata airbag violently inflated and crushed her spinal cord. The car Mincey was driving, a 2001 Honda Civic, was recalled only four days after the crash, according to Reuters. She died in April, of complications related to her quadriplegia.
Resolution Averts Takata Executive’s Testimony
In her lawsuit, Mincey said that Takata had knowingly manufactured defective and dangerous airbags. Recent investigations have added support to these allegations, revealing that Takata, along with major auto manufacturer Honda, were aware of the airbag’s dangerous defects long before the recall began. But questions remain as to what the company’s senior management – especially chief executive Shigehisa Takada – knew.
Takata “has been keen to keep Mr. Takada, a grandson of the company’s founder, out of the spotlight and away from depositions,” the New York Times reports. But at least a dozen other Takata officials were deposed in the course of Mincey’s lawsuit. Mountains of internal documents gathered during pretrial proceedings suggest that Takata engineers fabricated safety test results, while the company’s financial officials coldly weighed the costs of a recall against the benefits such an action would have for public safety.
Takata settled Mincey’s lawsuit only moments before a court hearing in which the company’s chief executive, Shigehisa Takada, could have been ordered to testify. The settlement amount has not been disclosed.
Older Honda & Acura Vehicles: 50% Risk Of Rupture
New experimental tests have revealed that a “particular subset” of faulty Takata airbags pose a far greater risk of exploding, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reports. Airbags installed in the following cars could “rupture” in up to 50% of accidents:
- Honda Civic (2001 – 2002)
- Honda Accord (2001 – 2002)
- Honda CR-V (2002)
- Honda Odyssey (2002)
- Honda Pilot (2003)
- Acura TL (2002 – 2003)
- Acura CL (2003)
As of June 30, 2016, 80% of the fatal crashes involving Takata’s defective airbags had occurred in one of these older vehicles.
Following the results of newly-performed tests, the NHTSA writes that “the air bag inflators in these particular vehicles contain a manufacturing defect which greatly increases the potential for dangerous rupture when a crash causes the airbag to deploy.” While the affected vehicles were recalled between 2008 and 2011, and at least 70% of the Honda cars have already been repaired, around 313,000 of these extremely-dangerous vehicles are still on the road.
Owners of the vehicles have been instructed to contact their closest dealership for an immediate repair at no charge.
More Takata Airbag Resources: