For the last decade, millions of Americans have been driving vehicles manufactured with defective airbags, produced by Japan-based firm Takata. Recently, the defective auto parts manufacturer entered a guilty plea in an agreement with the U.S. Department of Justice to resolve a federal investigation into the matter. That plea deal was accompanied by a promise to pay $1 billion in fines for deliberately failing to disclose the possible airbag defects. Only a fraction of that money will go to victims.
But that hasn’t resolved all of the issues. The latest civil lawsuit alleges five auto manufacturers knew that Takata airbags were defective and had the potential to injure and possibly kill motorists – but chose to continue buying and selling them. Why? Because they were cheaper.
The complaint alleges Toyota, Honda, Ford, Nissan, and BMW knew about these problems for more than a decade but didn’t issue a recall or even bother to seek another supplier. Takata not only produced cheaper airbags but also was able to meet the bulk demands that many other companies could not. But of course, the other companies were presumably ensuring their products met the high standards necessary for use in automobiles sold to the public, while Takata clearly was not.
The airbag defect is tied to at least 11 fatalities and 180 serious injuries in the U.S. alone, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). Takata conceded in its guilty plea that it purposely omitted and falsified information to make it seem as if the airbags were safer than they actually were. That false information was then passed on to car makers, the company said.
This statement is why car manufacturers are insisting they should not be liable in pending civil injury lawsuits – like the one just recently filed. They say Takata’s statement shows they were unwitting victims in this too.
But plaintiff lawyers say that insinuation is insulting to the actual victims, who were horribly maimed and injured, and some of whom lost their lives or their loved ones – all because of a device that was supposed to protect them. The reality, plaintiff attorneys say, is that auto manufacturers had independent information that Takata products were dangerous but chose to ignore that information.
Honda specifically was reportedly closely involved with the design of Takata’s airbags, and at least two inflaters exploded during testing that occurred at Honda’s test site facilities – one in 1999 and another in 2000. There is no plausible deniability in a situation like that, but Honda went on to use these airbags anyway. Furthermore, even after witnessing the airbags rupturing at their own facility, the company didn’t recall cars equipped with the device until receiving nearly 80 reports of the airbags rupturing in the faces of customers, in some cases causing serious car accidents and deaths.
Honda has denied this allegation and insisted that it “promptly” issued a recall as soon as it learned there was a problem with the airbag inflaters.
Takata has said the agreement with the Department of Justice should have a limited, if any, impact on the pending civil lawsuits. The agreement involved an admission of providing automakers with false information, but the agreement does not specifically say this action was the cause of the ruptures, recalls, or alleged financial harm incurred as a result.
Contact the Carolina injury lawyers at the Lee Law Offices by calling 800-887-1965.
Lawsuit alleges automakers knew of deadly Takata air-bag defects, Feb. 27, 2017, By Steven Overly, The Washington Post
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Advocates: North Carolina Needs More Safety Laws, Feb. 22, 2017, Defective Products Lawyer Blog