Defective inflators in airbags made by Japanese supplier Takata can explode in a crash and expel metal shrapnel, cutting drivers and passengers.
Regardless of how these accidents occur, the manufacturer–not the driver–is liable for cuts suffered by the car’s occupants.
Takata displayed a pattern of deceit over the airbag issue by concealing the problem for nearly a decade, manipulating airbag test data before and after the recall, and using inaccurate information to determine the scope of the recall.
At least 16 fatalities and more than 150 injuries have been linked to the faulty Takata airbags, while millions of vehicles with potentially deadly airbags remain on the road. (You can use the NHTSA’s VIN look-up tool to find out if your vehicle is involved in the Takata recall.)
Roughly 70 million vehicles containing Takata airbags require repairs as part of the largest and most complex auto safety recall in American history.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has taken unprecedented action against Takata, imposing the largest civil penalty in its history for violating federal laws designed to protect motorists. But this does nothing to compensate drivers and their families who are victims of exploding Takata airbags. Victims are now turning to the courts and filing lawsuits that seek compensation for airbag-related injuries and deaths.
If you or someone you know was injured or killed in an auto accident due to an exploding Takata airbag, you may be eligible for legal action.
The Takata Corporation is a specialized supplier of automotive safety systems based in Tokyo, Japan. In addition to making airbags, Takata also produces seat belts, child restraint systems, steering wheel systems, electronics, and interior parts such as headrests, armrests, and visors.
Founded in 1933, Takata began making airbags in 1988, capitalizing on new U.S. requirements for the safety devices and growing rapidly through acquisitions. Takata has about 20 percent of the global airbag market and sells to many of the largest automakers.
Importantly, Takata is the only airbag supplier that uses ammonium nitrate to inflate its airbags.
The use of this chemical is blamed for the airbag defects that prompted a massive recall, which began in April 2013 with 3.6 million cars from six automakers and has since expanded to more than 70 million vehicles, one of the largest recalls in history.
The airbag recall is not Takata’s first brush with safety problems. In the 1990s, the NHTSA announced what was then the second-largest recall in its history when it called back nearly 8.5 million vehicles with Takata seat belts that failed to latch and release properly.
The Problem with Takata Airbags
The issue lies not with the airbags themselves, but with their inflation devices.
Airbags are a major automotive safety feature that the Department of Transportation estimates have saved more than 37,000 lives. As Takata explains, airbag restraint systems have four major components: collision sensors, an ignitor, an inflator, and the airbag cushion. During an accident, sensors send a signal that triggers the ignitor, which then initiates the inflator, which in turn causes the airbag cushion to deploy and inflate. This entire process occurs in milliseconds.
Takata inflators use the volatile chemical ammonium nitrate as a propellant to inflate the airbag. The airbag can explode in a crash, firing metal shrapnel that cuts drivers and passengers.
Moisture, humidity, and other factors can break down the ammonium nitrate, making it unstable. When that happens, the propellant burns too rapidly and creates excessive pressure in the inflator cartridge, possibly leading to an explosion that sends metal fragments flying into the driver or passenger.
An independent testing lab hired to determine the exact cause of exploding Takata airbags determined three factors, working together, are to blame: ammonium nitrate propellant that doesn’t include a moisture-absorbing substance (Takata does not use this type of substance), long-term exposure to heat and moisture, and an inflator assembly that can allow moisture to seep in during very humid conditions.
Incredibly, automakers are still selling vehicles with defective Takata airbags. These vehicles will need to be recalled.
The following vehicle brands are impacted by the Takata recall:
Older Hondas Especially Dangerous
On June 30, 2016, transportation secretary Anthony Foxx issued a bulletin warning that a number of especially at-risk models had “as high as a 50 percent chance of a dangerous airbag inflater rupture in a crash.” Those models are as follows:
- 2001-2001 Honda Civic
- 2001-2002 Honda Accord
- 2002-2003 Acura TL
- 2002 Honda CR-V
- 2002 Honda Odyssey
- 2003 Acura CL
- 2003 Honda Pilot
What the Recall Means
If you have one of the affected vehicles, your airbags will need to be fixed. Owners with a recalled vehicle should receive a letter from the manufacturer informing them of what to do next. Loaner cars might be available to owners who request them for safety reasons, but it is not recommended that you have your airbags disabled.
Sign up for e-mail notifications about new developments in the Takata recall here.
Takata’s Pattern of Deceit: A Timeline of Events
Rupturing Takata airbags became a major news story beginning in 2013, when five manufacturers issued nationwide recalls. A significant expansion of these recalls in 2014 brought more media coverage and heightened concerns, but provided few answers, as Takata repeatedly changed its story and withheld crucial information.
Recall actions over Takata airbag ruptures actually date back to 2008, and investigations have revealed that Takata knew about the defects as far back as 2004.
A 2016 Senate report found that Takata falsified test data to hide airbag problems, and that company emails and documents reveal “a broken safety culture” that “at a minimum, did not prioritize the safety of its products—and perhaps operated with an utter disregard for safety.”
The following timeline of events reveals how this pattern of deceit unfolded over more than a decade:
- 2004: The first known rupture of a Takata airbag occurs in Alabama. Takata tells NHTSA that the incident is an anomaly, but it secretly conducts testing on 50 airbags retrieved from scrapyards and finds that inflators cracked in two of the airbags, a condition that can lead to a rupture. Expecting a recall, engineers start working on fixes. But executives choose not to alert federal regulators, and have the test data deleted and the airbags trashed.
- 2007-2008: Four Takata airbag ruptures occur in Arizona, South Carolina, Puerto Rico, and California, all involving Hondas with airbags manufactured around the Fall of 2000. In November 2008, Honda issues a small recall (3,940 vehicles) to address the ruptures. Takata explains that the ruptures are related to improper handling of airbag propellant at a single plant.
- 2009: Two more Takata airbag ruptures occur in Honda vehicles, one of them killing an Oklahoma driver. Honda expands its recall in June and again in July. NHTSA investigates whether the initial Honda recall was handled properly. Takata changes its story, claiming that the ruptures were caused not by improper propellant handling, but by a manufacturing error at a Washington plant. In December, Honda again expands its recall after an inflator rupture kills another driver.
- 2010: Honda recalls all Takata inflators made on certain machines at the Washington facility.
- 2011: Honda expands its recall for the fifth time, widening it to include airbag components used as replacement parts during repairs that might have also been defectively manufactured. A sixth recall expansion is issued in December because a vehicle outside the recall group experienced an inflator rupture. At this stage, more than 1 million Hondas and Acuras have been recalled.
- 2012: Honda begins studying the cause of the airbag inflator ruptures.
- 2013: Honda informs NHTSA of concerns over incorrectly manufactured propellant being installed in vehicles. Takata says that its quality control measures may have failed, and adds that propellant made at a Mexico facility might have been damaged by moisture prior to installation. Takata informs NHTSA of these potential defects and issues a recall. BMW, Honda, Mazda, Nissan, and Toyota issue recalls of their own.
- 2014: BMW, Honda, Mazda, Nissan, and Toyota expand their recalls. In June, NHTSA meets with Takata and vehicle manufacturers to discuss the airbag problem. The meeting focuses on the apparent link between high heat and humidity and inflator ruptures. NHTSA opens a formal investigation of the issue. NHTSA urges Takata to issue a nationwide recall, but Takata refuses.
- 2015: NHTSA intensifies its Takata investigation. Takata finally issues a nationwide recall, acknowledging that nearly 34 million airbag deflators are defective and a safety risk. Reuters reports that at least 400,000 replaced inflators need to be recalled and replaced again. Vehicle manufacturers expand their recalls. NHTSA hits Takata with a record civil penalty of up to $200 million, saying that Takata, “built and sold defective products, refused to acknowledge the defect, and failed to provide full information to the NHTSA, its customers, or the public.”
- 2016: NHTSA releases a list of all makes and models impacted by the Takata recall. The Senate releases a report detailing its investigation into Takata. Investigators conclude that Takata manipulated airbag inflator test data before and after recalls began, and used bad data to determine the scope of one of the recalls. One Senator scolded NHTSA for allowing Takata to use ammonium nitrate in some replacement airbags, saying, “Auto manufacturers are installing new live grenades into people’s cars as a replacement for the old live grenades.”
Automakers, Takata Facing Lawsuits Over Airbag Defects
Takata did not make public safety a priority when it designed, manufactured, and sold faulty airbag inflators. Takata withheld knowledge of airbag defects from the public for nearly a decade, when more prompt action likely would have saved lives and prevented injuries.
Those who suffered injuries from exploding Takata airbags, as well as the family members of those who died from airbag shrapnel, are now filing lawsuits against Takata and automakers.
Regardless of how the accident happened, Takata is liable for an airbag that fires shrapnel into the driver.
Lending even more validity to these cases, the state of Hawaii and the Virgin Islands (a U.S. territory) have sued Takata and Honda over their failure to warn residents of fatally defective Takata airbags.
Morgan & Morgan Will Fight for You
Morgan & Morgan’s attorneys have extensive experience with automobile mass litigation, including lawsuits over Continental airbags, GM ignition switches, and Volkswagen emissions fraud. We have won jury awards and settlements against automakers in the past, and our work in this area makes us uniquely qualified to handle large and complex class action cases.
Contact us immediately for a free, no-obligation case review. These lawsuits are time-sensitive, so it is crucial that you reach out to us as soon as possible to determine if you are eligible for compensation.