Officials say moisture, temperature caused Takata airbag problems that led to massive product recall

by Michael Heygood

Federal safety regulators have announced that the increased risk of accidental explosions that led to the massive Takata airbag recall was caused by long-term exposure to moisture in the environment and temperature fluctuations that can cause the explosive propellant in the airbags to become unstable over time. At least 10 deaths in the U.S. have been linked to malfunctioning Takata airbags, forcing the recall of 63 million vehicles equipped with these devices, or about one in four cars on America’s roads.

Officials at the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (“NHTSA”) said that the ammonium nitrate propellant used in Takata airbags was prone to becoming volatile over time due to exposure to moisture and temperature changes. This could cause the ammonium nitrate canisters inside the airbags to degrade, which could lead to an accidental explosion, sending metal fragments from the canister flying into the automobile, putting drivers and passengers at risk of serious injury or death.

In May 2016, the NHTSA ordered Takata to recall an additional 35-40 million vehicles equipped with the faulty airbags, doubling the total number of vehicles that had been recalled. NHTSA officials say that the Takata recall is the largest product recall in U.S. history.

In addition to the 10 deaths in the U.S., Honda officials say they are currently investigating the deaths of two individuals in Malaysia that may also be linked to the linked to the recalled Takata airbags. This announcement comes just weeks after a teenage girl in Houston, Texas was killed following a minor accident that led to the accidental explosion of a Takata airbag.

Problems with Takata Airbags Known as Early as 2004

Takata engineers struggled for years to stabilize the ammonium nitrate in the airbag canisters by adding a drying agent to prevent the chemical from becoming volatile and exploding accidentally. Some airbags were also installed without a drying agent, making them even more prone to accidental explosion.

Takata and Honda were aware as early as 2004 of the potential risks of using ammonium nitrate as an airbag propellant. However, rather than alerting the public, the company chose to use the chemical in its products despite the possible dangers. A former Takata engineer claims that the company allegedly destroyed data from test results of the airbags when they showed problems with the company’s product. Documents uncovered in lawsuits against Takata have also shown that the company manipulated safety data as early as 2000 to conform with automakers’ manufacturing requirements.

The first recall of Takata airbags was issued in 2008 for just a few thousand vehicles. Even after the first recall was announced, Takata continued to insist that the problems were only a limited manufacturing issue, rather than a fundamental flaw with the airbags. NHTSA officials say that the time it took for safety regulators to become aware of the problems with Takata’s airbags was a key factor in the size and extent of the recalls.

Lawsuits Filed Against Takata and Honda Over Airbag Recall

Several personal injury and wrongful death lawsuits have been filed on behalf of drivers or passengers who were injured or killed as a result of being struck by metal shrapnel that was ejected during a violent airbag explosion caused by the defective Takata airbags. Many of the deceased individuals suffered severed arties caused by metal fragments from the exploding airbags. Takata and Honda have agreed to undisclosed settlements in lawsuits filed by the families of at least six individuals who were killed as a result of metal fragments ejected by an exploding Takata airbag in a Honda vehicle.

In addition to the millions of Honda vehicles involved in the Takata recall, cars sold by Honda, Toyota, Dodge, Ford, and other automakers have also been recalled due to faulty airbags. A list of vehicles recalled by Takata is available on our website.

If you are the owner of a vehicle involved in the Takata recall, or if you or a loved one has been injured due to the accidental explosion of a Takata airbag, you may be eligible to file a lawsuit against Takata or the manufacturer of the vehicle. The first step in taking legal action is to secure the assistance of experienced legal counsel who can guide you through the process of filing a case.

The lawyers at Heygood, Orr & Pearson have the experience and knowledge to pursue product liability claims against Takata or any of the major auto manufacturers. We also have the financial resources to handle even the most complex cases from beginning to end. There are many instances when we have invested hundreds of thousands of dollars in a case in order to take it to trial. Our attorneys are committed to achieving justice for our clients, whatever the cost.

For a free legal consultation and to find out more about filing a vehicle crashworthiness lawsuit, contact the attorneys of Heygood, Orr & Pearson. You can reach us by calling toll-free at 1-877-446-9001, or by following the link to our free case evaluation form and answering a few simple questions to get started.

by Michael Heygood

Michael Heygood is a licensed attorney and partner at HO&P who focuses on insurance and corporate litigation, and other civil arenas. Michael has been named multiple times to the Super Lawyers List.