No driver wants to face an accident, but at that split moment a collision occurs, the person behind the wheel and all passengers inside expect the airbag to deploy to minimize potential injuries.
Yet for those owning cars from over a dozen auto brands, this scenario didn’t happen. Instead, vehicles outfitted with defective airbags made at Takata plants inflated to release shrapnel. These metal fragments have caused life-altering or fatal injuries resembling stab wounds. In fact, about 140 injuries and five deaths have resulted from these devices that are supposed to be saving lives.
Although not all Takata airbags malfunction, reports allege that plants in the U.S. and Mexico created products with a defect rate six to eight times the acceptable limit. This means that, amongst 8 million vehicles, 60 to 80 out of every 1 million may have a defective airbag.
In the scenarios studied, the airbags have a faulty inflator and propellant device causing it to deploy incorrectly in a crash.
However, the Japanese manufacturer has since given multiple reasons for this occurrence. One, the company claims the propellant chemicals were not properly stored during assembly. As a result, the metal airbag inflators burst.
Two, the company claims humid weather and poor construction, including rust, bad welding, and even chewing gum in the product, have created hazardous airbags.
Additionally, Nissan, one of the brands using Takata products, claims that the propellant deteriorates overtime. What results is over-aggressive combustion and excessive internal pressure – two factors causing the airbag housing to rupture during a crash.
A recall was first announced in April 2013, with six brands targeted. Then, Toyota recalled its cars in June 2014 for the same defect.
However, a New York Times piece exposing the details of these recalls revealed that Honda had been aware of the dangerous airbags and subsequent injuries since 2004, but had failed to notify the NHTSA in previous filings.
Takata allegedly had been aware, as well. The New York Times piece claimed that the company conducted tests in secret to verify the problem and even started to research a solution, but did not notify federal safety regulators or improve the product. In fact, Takata apparently had its engineers destroy the data and evidence.
In July 2014, NHTSA required forced regional recalls in high-humidity areas, including Florida, Hawaii, South Carolina, the Gulf Coast states, and island territories. As airbags in these regions appear to be more likely to cause injuries, the U.S. DOT organization aimed to gather removed parts and send them back to Takata for review.
Since the recalls have come to light, two U.S. Senators requested a Department of Justice criminal investigation. A hearing was held with Congress on November 20, 2014, with automakers, Takata officials, and injured motorists present.
Currently, the recalls are still regional, but in November, the NHTSA called for manufacturers to examine vehicles nationwide.
NHTSA made this announcement on November 18th. The decision came after the organization finished evaluating a vehicle outside the recalled region with a defective driver’s side airbag.
As a result, the NHTSA issued a General Order to Takata and all involved auto manufacturers, requiring them to file under oath a detailed report, including all documents concerning the testing of Takata inflators in and outside the regional recall areas.
The organization further issued a Special Order to Takata, requesting similar documentation about the propellant chemical used in the inflators. Takata had claimed it changed the chemical mix, and NHTSA, in response, is looking to determine if the combination is directly responsible for the bursting airbags.
As of November 2014, 16 million vehicles have been affected globally, including 8 million cars, trucks, and SUVs in the United States.
Takata has claimed it does not know which vehicles contain the defective airbags, but the list of potentially-affected makes and models includes:
• 2002–2003 CL and TL
• 2003–2006 MDX
• 2005 RL
• 2000-2005 3-series
• 2000-2006 3-series
• 2001-2006 M
Chrysler (including Dodge)
• 2005-2008 Chrysler 300
• 2007–2008 Aspen
• 2003–2008 Dodge Ram 1500
• 2005–2008 Ram 2500, Dakota, and Durango
• 2006–2008 Ram 3500 and 4500
• 2008 Ram 5500
• 2004 Ranger
• 2005–2006 GT
• 2005–2007 Mustang
• 2001–2007 Accord
• 2001–2005 Civic
• 2002–2006 CR-V
• 2002–2004 Odyssey
• 2003–2011 Element
• 2003–2007 Pilot
• 2006 Ridgeline
• 2001–2004 Infiniti I30/I35
• 2002–2003 Infiniti QX4
• 2003–2005 Infiniti FX35/FX45
• 2006 Infiniti M35/M45
• 2002–2005 SC430
• 2003–2007 Mazda 6
• 2006–2007 Mazdaspeed 6
• 2004–2008 Mazda RX-8
• 2004–2005 MPV
• 2004 B-series
• 2004–2005 Lancer
• 2006–2007 Raider
• 2001–2003 Maxima
• 2001–2004 Pathfinder
• 2002–2006 Nissan Sentra
• 2003–2005 Vibe
• 2005 9-2X
• 2003–2005 Baja, Legacy, and Outback
• 2004–2005 Impreza, Impreza WRX, and Impreza WRX STI
• 2002–2005 Toyota Corolla and Sequoia
• 2003–2005 Matrix and Tundra
If you’re unsure about whether your car is affected, find your VIN number and check it on the manufacturer’s website.
Although individual manufacturers have reached settlements over these defects, multiple lawsuits have been filed over the course of 2014.
As well, as of November 2014, 15 proposed federal level class action lawsuits claim that the auto manufacturers did not notify car owners about the defect. After the recall, the plaintiffs claim, they experienced inconvenience while waiting for replacement parts and from the limited use of their vehicles, and decrease in resale value. Further, they allege NHTSA took too long to address the growing safety problem.
With experience in product liability claims, Trantolo & Trantolo’s team has been taking on and directing cases concerning Takata airbags. If you or a loved one were injured as a result of these defective parts, contact any of our Connecticut law offices to speak with an attorney.