Takata Engineer Refuses to Testify in Airbag Lawsuit

Citing his 5th Amendment protection against self-incrimination, an engineer for Takata Corp. is refusing to testify in a defective airbag lawsuit filed by a woman rendered paralyzed in a 2014 crash. drive7

Accident victims say the airbag manufacturing company, based in Japan, withheld or altered test results both prior to and after the company’s airbag inflators started exploding, firing shrapnel into drivers and passengers when they deployed during crashes.

In preparation for trial, plaintiff attorneys sought testimony during the deposition phase from a man named Al Bernat. He’s an auto safety specialist at the firm, and he’s considered a key witness on a number of those aforementioned tests. However, he says his lips are zipped, citing his constitutional right not to be forced to testify to facts that might result in a criminal prosecution against him. 

This development came as it was revealed that U.S. auto safety regulators are deciding whether an additional 70 million to 90 million Takata Corp. airbag inflators could be recalled due to possible danger to drivers.

Reuters reported that if officials took this step, it would nearly quadruple the number of inflators that have been recalled, which so far stands at 29 million. These devices have been linked to 9 car accident deaths so far in the U.S.

We know there are more than 120 million Takta inflators in U.S. cars and trucks that contain a volatile chemical known as ammonium nitrate. This chemical has been known to be especially dangerous when exposed to intense periods of heat, which is why many of these incidents have unfolded in the South.

Takata is the No. 1 airbag manufacturer globally. The exact number of vehicles affected is tough to pinpoint because some vehicles have two or more inflators, and they aren’t always produced by the same manufacturer.

The company has so far declined to comment on whether additional airbags will be recalled or whether there is a possibility American lives are still endangered.

Of course, this kind of lack of comment has been par for the course for this company. Despite promises from company spokespersons the firm is cooperating fully with regulators and customers, the company was recently slapped with a $70 million penalty for its failure to act for years when it knew the products weren’t safe.

As part of that settlement, Takata has promised to stop making ammonium nitrate inflators by 2018. The company also vowed it would by 2019 declare all ammonium nitrate inflators unsafe and thus defective, unless it was able to show otherwise.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) is reportedly still investigating the inflators that haven’t yet been recalled, but has yet to find enough evidence to require car makers to recall the rest of those containing ammonium nitrate.

NHTSA said the process of making these airbags safe is going to take years. It’s estimated this company made an estimated 285 million of inflators containing the chemical between 2000 to 2015.

These inflators were then sold to more than a dozen car makers, with the single largest being Honda.

Plaintiff in the pending injury lawsuit in which Bernat was supposed to testify alleges test data on those inflators were altered both in the U.S. and Japan to make it appear as if the products were safe, when in fact the company knew they were not.

This is one of a host of pending lawsuits against the airbag manufacturer and auto suppliers. If this 90 million more airbags are recalled, we imagine this is only the beginning of what is likely to be a long legal saga.

Contact the Carolina injury lawyers at the Lee Law Offices by calling 800-887-1965.

Additional Resources:

Takata Engineer Refused to Testify in Airbag Failure Lawsuit, Feb. 18, 2016, By Margaret Cronin Fisk and Susannah Nesmith, ClaimsJournal.com

Exclusive: Up to 90 million more Takata airbag inflators may face U.S. recalls, Feb. 22, 2016, Reuters

More Blog Entries:

More Airbag Recalls Involve More Than 9 Million Vehicles, Feb. 23, 2016, Greenville Car Accident Attorney Blog

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