Air bags are designed to be life-saving devices in the event of a serious auto accident. However, it appears that millions of airbags produced by one of the world’s largest manufacturers of the product created a product that actually heightened the risk of major injury and death for some drivers and passengers.
Auto part supplier Takata, based in Japan, has so far recalled 7.8 million of airbags from 11 auto makers after reports of the deployed bags hurling dangerous fragments of shrapnel at the heads, necks and chests of those in front seats. At least four deaths and several dozen injuries have been linked to the problem, but a New York Times investigation last month found at least 139 crash injuries in the U.S. were attributed to this issue.
This has prompted lawmakers to place pressure on the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to provide a more in-depth accounting of how the recall was handled, and whether it was adequate. One letter, signed by two senators, scolded the federal regulator for allowing car manufacturers to limit the initial recall in July to those geographic areas with high humidity as that was alleged to have been the reason for the defect.
However, as our Charlotte car accident lawyers understand it, Takata is now saying the defect may have resulted from improper handling of chemicals during the manufacturing process.
Although 7.8 million vehicles have so far been recalled – with the NHTSA issuing an especially urgent warning to consumers to take immediate action – there is the potential for that figure to nearly double to 14 million vehicles. The initial recall in July only called for new parts in 900,000 vehicles from nine auto manufacturers in two states (Florida and Hawaii), plus Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands. The recall was later expanded to 2.4 million vehicles in South Carolina, Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, California and Texas.
The geographic nature of this recall has been sharply criticized because, as the president for Consumers for Auto Reliability and Safety points out, we’re a mobile society. People move. Cars move. Snowbirds travel to Southern states in the winter all the time. Just because a car is registered in one state doesn’t mean it wouldn’t be affected by humidity. Limiting the recall to certain geographic areas makes little sense, they say.
Advocates have urged the implementation of a nationwide recall of all Takata air bags.
Problematically, however, the industry seems ill-equipped to handle the sudden demand, with some locations saying it could be weeks or even months before they have the available parts to fix this issue. The driver-side airbag will be the top priority. In the meantime, at least one manufacturer said it could disable passenger-side airbags where parts weren’t available and instruct owners not to use that seat.
Some lawmakers have instead proposed offering vehicle owners free loaner cars until those parts become available. So far, no automaker has agreed to this. The two auto manufacturers that are the most greatly impacted – Toyota and Honda – are weighing whether to take this action.
The timeline of this recall is going to be increasingly important in the coming weeks as lawmakers weigh whether appropriate action was taken. You may remember with regard to the fatal ignition switch defect on General Motors vehicles, it was revealed the manufacturer knew about the problem for a decade before taking action to warn consumers.
Already, some lawsuits regarding the air bag defect have been filed. We expect many more to come in the months and years ahead.
Contact the Carolina injury lawyers at the Lee Law Offices by calling 800-887-1965.
Takata Airbag Recall Faces Rising Scrutiny, Oct. 22, 2014, By Hiroko Tabuchi and Aaron M. Kessler, The New York Times
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Wright v. Carroll – Sudden Emergency Defense in Motor Vehicle Crashes, Oct. 22, 2014, Charlotte Car Accident Attorney Blog