The defective airbags manufactured by Takata have been responsible for at least several deaths and over one hundred injuries. According to auto manufacturer Nissan, the solid chemical propellant used in Takata airbags has a propensity to deteriorate over time, particularly under environmental conditions of high humidity.
As the propellant degrades, it builds up excessive pressure in the metal inflator housing, causing it to rupture. When the airbag deploys, metal shrapnel is launched through the bag and at the occupants in the vehicle.
Who is the Takata Corporation
Takata Corporation manufactures a wide range of automotive parts and equipment. The company was founded in Shiga, Japan in 1933. Initially, the company produced cords for parachutes and various kinds of fabrics.
In the 1950s, Takata was among the first to manufacture automotive seatbelts, building the first crash test facility for testing its products in the 1960s. Takata introduced the automotive child restraint system the following decade, in 1974.
How Many People Have Been Injured by the Takata Airbags
As of November 2014, at least four deaths have been reported, as well as over one hundred injuries due to Takata's defective airbags.
What Types of Injuries Have Victims Suffered from the Takata Airbags
When the Takata airbags deploy (in some cases, explosively and without warning), the metal within the bag turns into shrapnel, capable of tearing into flesh and bone. Most of the injuries are inflicted upon the face and upper body.
In a California case, police arriving at the scene of the accident initially believed the driver had been shot in the face. In Orlando police first believed the driver had been attacked with a knife and began a criminal investigation until an autopsy revealed metal and plastic fragments in her neck.
What Vehicles are Affected by the Takata Airbags
According to Consumer Reports, nearly eight million vehicles by ten different manufacturers may be affected. They include models from the following auto makers:
- General Motors (Buick, Cadillac, Chevrolet, GMC, Pontiac)
Drivers who own one of these makes can visit the website of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and enter the Vehicle Identification Number (VIN) in order to determine if their car is affected.
How Long Have the Defective Airbags Been in Use
The airbags in question have been installed in vehicles from the model years 2000 through 2008. The first report of a fatality came in 2004. Takata has known of the defective condition since at least 2004 when it conducted testing on the issue.
Takata destroyed the results of the testing and did not report it when the testing showed the airbags were defective.
How Did this Happen
As is often the case in product liability cases, victims' injuries are ultimately the results of a manufacturer attempting to reduce costs and increase profits by cutting corners. In 2001, Takata switched the original chemical propellant, a compound known as tetrazole, to a less-expensive alternative, ammonium nitrate.
The latter compound, used by the perpetrators in the bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah building in Oklahoma City in 1995, is unstable in the presence of heat and humidity, and has caused numerous fatal accidents over the past century.
Professor Paul Worsey, an explosives and mining expert at Missouri University of Science and Technology, told reporter Hiroko Tabuchi of the New York Times that ammonium nitrate “shouldn't be used in airbags,” adding, “but it's cheap, unbelievably cheap.”
What Action is the U.S. Government Taking
On November 7, 2014, Senators Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut and Edward Markey of Massachusetts called upon the Department of Justice to begin a criminal investigation of Takata.
Several days later, executives from Takata and Honda were ordered to testify before a Senate committee about their responsibility in this matter. According to Business Day, Takata Senior VP Hiroshi Shimuzu has expressed deep regret over the victims, but has been evasive when asked direct questions.
Have Takata Airbags Been Subject to a Recall
Yes, 3.6 million vehicles with airbag inflator units manufactured at a Takata facility in Mexico were recalled in the spring of 2014. In June, seven automakers issued a recall of 3 million more vehicles in the wake of an investigation by NHTSA.
Until recently, recalls have focused on vehicles in warm, humid regions of the country, primarily the deep South and Southern California. However, as of November 18, 2014, NHTSA has called upon Takata to issue a nationwide recall.
What are the Primary Allegations against Takata and the Automakers
Takata currently faces a criminal investigation stemming from the Senate probe into the matter. A reporter for the New York Times alleges that Takata was aware of the problem as early as 2004.
Two employees of the company told the Times that Takata began “secret testing” in order to determine defects at least four years before the company publicly stated that such testing was being carried out. There have also been accusations that documents related to the defect were destroyed.
In a class action lawsuit filed in Seattle, Washington, lawyers for the plaintiffs allege Takata deliberately concealed evidence of the defective inflators. Honda Motor Company, also named a defendant in the suit, was allegedly aware of the problem with the airbags, which have been installed in millions of its vehicles.
However, when both companies were made aware of injuries resulting from the airbags, they dismissed the incidents as “anomalies.” For its part, Takata admitted to New York Times reporter Tabuchi in June of 2014 that personnel at the Mexican factory had “improperly stored chemicals and mishandled the manufacture of explosive propellants” as well as “failed to keep adequate records.”
As of Novmber 14, 2014, Takata continues to deny any deliberate wrongdoing.
Takata Airbag Lawsuit News
Takata Airbag Recall Doubles, Becomes Highest Vehicle Recall in History:
Today, several media outlets are reporting that airbag maker Takata has expanded its recall to include 34 million vehicles worldwide – nearly twice the current figure. This will make it the largest vehicle recall in history, eclipsing the Ford recall of the 1980s for defective transmissions. Tataka, a company based in Tokyo, was for decades a pioneer in automotive safety devices that include seatbelts (actually illegal in the U.S. prior to the 1950s) and child safety seats. It was also an innovator when it came to air bags, now standard equipment on all newly-manufactured vehicles. To read more, click Levin Law News
U.S. Agency Sets Fines for Maker of Airbags:
In an escalating standoff with Takata, federal regulators said on Friday that they would begin to fine the Japanese auto supplier $14,000 a day, saying it had not fully cooperated in an investigation into defective airbags. To read more, click The New York Times
Takata defies U.S. regulators over exploding airbags:
Embattled auto parts supplier Takata has defied U.S. regulators, ignoring a key deadline to expand its recall of airbags that may contain a fatal flaw. To read more, click CNN News
Feds threaten to act against airbag maker Takata:
U.S. safety regulators are threatening fines and legal action against airbag maker Takata Corp. unless it admits that the company's driver's side airbag inflators are defective and agrees to a nationwide recall. In a letter to Takata's Washington office, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration gave the Japanese company until Tuesday to file paperwork declaring a defect and agree to expand the recall from high-humidity states to the full nation. To read more, click CBS News