Serious injuries—as well as ten deaths—have been linked to Takata airbags. The New York Times reported at least 139 injuries across all automakers; Honda vehicles were responsible for all ten deaths and injuries to thirty consumers. In fact, more Honda vehicles were affected by the defective Takata airbags than any other automaker. The Times also noted that both Honda and Takata were aware of the faulty airbags as far back as 2004, yet did not notify the NHTSA—an allegation Honda denies. Apparently, these airbags have, in some cases, deployed explosively, sending shards of metal throughout the interior of the automobile—and into the driver and passengers inside the vehicle.
Initially, Takata maintained this type of airbag explosion only happened in areas of very high humidity. While high humidity does appear to be an issue, there are other contributing factors as well. One of those factors has been called “poor quality control in manufacture,” as well as the design of the individual vehicles and several years’ of exposure in high heat and humidity regions. Apparently, when the propellant wafer in the airbag break down, the propellant burns far too rapidly, creating excess pressure in the body of the airbag inflator.
In February 2016, the Independent Testing Coalition hired an independent company to test the Takata airbags. The conclusion was that the combination of the use of ammonium nitrate, the exposure to extreme heat and humidity, and the construction of the inflator assembly were all factors in the defective Takata airbags.
A later Toyota recall elicited an admission from Takata that they were not entirely sure which cars had the defective airbags. Takata further admitted they were unsure of the root cause of the defective airbags. As a result, the NHTSA forced additional recalls in high-humidity areas such as Florida, the U.S. Virgin Islands and Hawaii. It was also found that the propellant chemicals used in the Takata airbags may have been mishandled and stored improperly during the assembly process, and that rust and bad welds could also have been factors leading to the defective airbags.
It was initially stated that about 34 million vehicles in the United States were affected, with another seven million or so recalled worldwide. In February 2016, however, it was reported that the number of Takata airbags recalled in the U.S. could be as high as 120 million. (This is not the overall vehicle total, rather the total number of airbags). When the flaws in the Takata airbags were first announced in April 2013, it was believed only six makes of vehicles were involved. A Toyota recall in June 2015, prompted more automakers to issue recalls. While Toyota says there have been no related injuries or deaths related to Takata airbags in their vehicles, the company is nonetheless replacing passenger-side Takata airbags as parts become available.
As far back as 2002, the Takata Mexico plant routinely allowed defect rates which were six to eight times higher than acceptable—about 60-80 defective parts for every million airbag inflators. It appears that the majority of the defective airbags were manufactured at the Mexico plant, the Georgia plant and the Washington state plant. The New York Times reported crucial test reports for the Takata airbags were withheld by Takata executives, and that evidence of the defects were even destroyed. It is also alleged that a top Takata executive ordered defective parts to be “discarded,” and altered reports related to the airbags.
In February 2016, certain Mercedes-Benz models, 2006-2007 Chrysler Crossfires and about 200,000 Saab and Saturn vehicles were added to the recall list, and in March 2016, Toyota recalled another 198,000 vehicles, specifically the 2008 Corolla and Corolla Matrix, and the 2008-2010 Lexus SC430. In order to find out whether your specific vehicle is on the list of those recalled due to a Takata airbag, you can go to: https://vinrcl.safercar.gov/vin/ and enter your car’s VIN number.
At one point in the Takata airbag debacle, the U.S. Transportation Secretary, Anthony Foxx, announced fines levied at Takata, noting that Takata’s failure to cooperate with the ongoing investigation was unacceptable and would not be tolerated. Takata denied allegations they were being less than cooperative, claiming they provided the NHTSA over 2.5 million pages of documents and have met regularly with engineers in order to identify the issues. The NHTSA countered that the 2.5 million pages of documents came to them with no explanation of content, making it very difficult to make sense of the documents. Takata also refused, at one point, to take the NHTSA’s recommendation and expand the recall outside the high-humidity areas.
Stefan Stocker, president of Takata, stepped down during the fiasco, leaving Takata’s chairman to determine how to respond to the recall of millions of vehicles with defective airbags. Stocker, a Swiss national and Takata’s first foreign president, remained with the company as a board member. Shigehisa Takada, grandson of the company founder, retained his title as chairman, stepping into the role of president, vacated by Stocker. Stocker was hired last year to increase oversight in Takata’s global operations. Takata is primarily a family business, and has faced widespread criticism for the way they handled the airbag issue. The company faces lawsuits from consumers, a U.S. criminal investigation, and potential financial ruin.
Takata is currently facing a number of lawsuits, some of which are being consolidated in Miami federal court. In addition to the cost of defending the mounting number of lawsuits, Takata is also on the hook for the costs (estimated at $24 billion), associated with recalling each defective airbag inflator. As of the middle of March, about 7.5 million defective Takata airbags have been replaced. Honda has the highest completion rate for replacing the defective Takata airbags, with a bit more than 50 percent.
The injuries sustained by victims of the defective Takata airbags are essentially shrapnel injuries—the type of injuries consistent with flying pieces of metal being forcefully expelled. The extent of the injuries is dependent on where the metal shards hit the victims inside the vehicle. If you or a loved one has suffered serious injury or death as a result of a defective Takata airbag, or if you have questions regarding the Takata airbags that you need answered, contact an experienced Martinson & Beason today. You may have a wrongful death claim or a product liability claim, and you deserve an attorney who will work hard on your behalf. With a long history of excellence, legal accolades in the industry and scores of highly satisfied clients, the attorneys of Martinson & Beason truly care about your future.