Since the first airbag recall was issued in 2008, Takata has been repeatedly blamed for stalling the efforts of government safety officials.
In many ways, it appears that Takata actively stood in the way of removing these deadly airbags from vehicles. Many legal experts, usually reluctant to cast blame publicly, can only describe Takata’s alleged wrongdoing as an outright “betrayal.” Victims, along with surviving loved ones, believe the company should be held accountable.
Wrongful Death Lawsuits Filed Over Takata Explosions
As the recall moves forward, injured drivers and passengers have begun to file lawsuits, both against Takata and vehicle manufacturers like Honda. The cases have been consolidated for coordinated pre-trial proceedings in the US District Court for the Southern District of Florida. In Miami, the lawsuits have come under the guidance of Judge Federico A. Moreno.
With at least 14 fatalities reported so far, surviving family members have also begun to initiate legal actions of their own – pursuing financial compensation for ongoing emotional trauma, funeral expenses and other costs associated with the loss of a loved one. Several families have already sued Takata, accusing the company of concealing evidence from regulatory officials and the public, while pushing an airbag with known defects into vehicles around the globe.
Takata Endangered Lives To Cut Costs, Families Say
Where Takata airbags are concerned, the risk of serious injury or death seems to be extraordinarily high. Even minor collisions can lead to a devastating explosion. In fact, recent lawsuits claim that Takata-made airbags can explode in the absence of a collision. In one complaint, filed on August 15, 2016, a woman says that her vehicle’s airbag detonated as she was turning the ignition key.
At bottom, the problem with Takata’s airbag appears to lie in a callous search for profits – at the expense of human life. In an effort to cut costs and attract large auto manufacturers, the company replaced the stable chemical compound used in its airbag inflators with the extremely volatile ammonium nitrate.
Explosions Blamed On Cheap, Volatile Compound
Today, we know that Takata’s airbags blow up after this volatile propellant has been allowed to degrade, creating forceful pressure and leading to an explosion. But even in the late 1990s, engineers at Takata were worried about the switch to ammonium nitrate. Speaking to the New York Times in 2014, former engineer Mark Lillie said that “despite the dangers associated with [ammonium nitrate], considerations over cost spurred [Takata]” to use the compound. Takata changed to ammonium nitrate, Lillie claims, in the face of evidence that ammonium nitrate could generate gases so quickly that the airbag’s inflator would explode.
Takata is still using ammonium nitrate to manufacture new airbags, although the company has assured government regulators that the addition of a moisture-absorbing chemical will be able to avert further tragedy.
Takata Settlements In Wrongful Death Lawsuits
While attorneys believe that the litigation against Takata has only just begun, the company has already settled a majority of the wrongful death lawsuits. By December 4, 2015, the company had settled six out of the eight then-filed wrongful death actions. Honda, too, “has been working to settle claims quickly,” Automotive News writes.
In July 2016, the company reached an undisclosed settlement agreement with the family of a 77-year-old woman, according to Reuters. After a Takata airbag exploded violently during a minor collision, she lived for two years as a quadriplegic, until succumbing to complications in 2016. As part of the settlement, the family agreed to withdraw its request to have Takata’s chief executive, Shigehisa Takada, deposed.
International Victims Can File Lawsuits
Thus far, 10 fatal accidents have been reported in the United States. Another 4 drivers in Malaysia were killed by exploding Takata airbags, according to the New York Times.
Victims who were injured outside of the United States have every right to file a lawsuit against Takata in a US court of law, as do surviving family members.
In fact, the very first wrongful death lawsuit over the company’s deadly airbags was filed on behalf of a Malaysian woman and her unborn child. As the lawsuit alleged, the woman was killed when a Takata airbag violently exploded in her car. The vehicle, a 2003 Honda City Car, was not under recall at the time. Her child was delivered, but died only days later. Takata ultimately settled the case for an undisclosed amount.
In-Depth Takata Airbag Explosion Resources