The Takata Corporation has recalled about 70 million airbags to due to a risk of serious and potentially fatal injuries caused by the violent explosion of these airbags in a crash. At least 11 deaths and more than 100 injuries caused by metal shrapnel ejected from the airbags have been reported in the U.S.
Takata’s airbags are manufactured using ammonium nitrate, an explosive chemical that is used to trigger the cartridges that cause the airbag to inflate. Tests have shown that when these airbag cartridges are exposed to heat or moisture, the ammonium nitrate chemical can degrade, causing the cartridges to inflate prematurely and explode with deadly force. These explosions can rupture the metal canister that is supposed to contain the explosion, sending metal fragments flying from the airbag, which can seriously injure or kill occupants of the vehicle.
Many of Takata’s competitors avoided using ammonium nitrate in their airbags because of the risks of accidental explosions. Although engineers at the company warned about the danger of using ammonium nitrate, Takata chose to ignore these warnings, installing the dangerous inflators in millions of airbags that were sold to Honda, Toyota, Dodge, Ford, and other automakers. When dozens of accidental explosions caused by the ammonium nitrate inflators were reported, Takata allegedly falsified test data to cover up problems with its airbags and lied to safety officials about its knowledge concerning the risks of ammonium nitrate.
Internal emails from Takata have shown that the company was also aware of manufacturing problems with the airbag inflators—including metal shavings inside the inflator parts, improperly welded inflator casings, bad propellant wafers, and bent or damaged parts. A former Takata manager stated that these problems could allow the ammonium nitrate to become contaminated by moisture, which in turn could lead to explosions. Some of the inflators in Takata’s ammonium nitrate airbags were also manufactured without a desiccant—a moisture-absorbing chemical that can help to prevent accidental explosions. Safety experts say that Takata airbags that were not manufactured with a desiccant chemical to absorb moisture may be particularly at risk of accidental explosions.
Millions of Vehicles Affected by Takata Airbag Recall
Takata manufactured more than 260 million airbags using inflators containing ammonium nitrate between 2000 and 2015. According to Takata officials, about half of these airbags ended up in vehicles that were sold in the U.S. Takata’s biggest client, Honda, also owns a minority stake in the airbag manufacturer. Other carmakers that have used airbags manufactured by Takata include BMW, Fiat-Chrysler, Ford, General Motors, Mitsubishi, Mazda, Nissan, Subaru, and Toyota.
More than 28 million vehicles equipped with Takata airbags have been recalled by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) as of February 2016. Officials initially believed that problems with Takata airbags only affected older vehicles where the ammonium nitrate airbag inflators had degraded due to age. However, subsequent testing revealed that the risk of accidental explosions was present even in newer vehicles equipped with airbags made by Takata. Tens of millions of additional vehicles with driver-side or passenger-side airbags from Takata may be recalled by federal safety officials due to the ongoing risk of accidental explosion.
Millions of Takata airbags have already been replaced following the initial reports of injuries linked to accidental explosions. However, because Takata was slow to admit that there was a problem with ammonium nitrate, many of these replacement airbags also contained ammonium nitrate inflators. As a result, some of these replacement airbags may also have to be replaced in the future. Even in cases where ammonium nitrate airbags were not used, NHTSA has stated that the replacements “may be effective for several years, but not for the full life of your vehicle, and therefore may also have to be replaced.” Both Honda and Nissan have stated that they would use airbags made by Takata’s competitors for these replacements.
Lawsuits Against Takata Over Airbag Explosions
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 November 2015, Takata agreed to pay a $70 million penalty to NHTSA for the company’s actions that led to the airbag recall. Takata also agreed to stop making airbags that use ammonium nitrate inflators by 2018 and to declare all remaining ammonium nitrate airbags defective by 2019 unless it can prove they demonstrate no risk of accidental explosion.
In 2014, a class action lawsuit was filed against Takata and Honda on behalf of millions of vehicle owners whose cars were equipped with faulty airbags manufactured by the company. The lawsuit alleges that owners of vehicles equipped with the recalled Takata airbags were overcharged and that the value of these cars has been reduced due to the millions of vehicles that have been recalled.
Product Liability Lawsuits Filed by Heygood, Orr & Pearson
Consumers who purchased or leased vehicles equipped with faulty airbags manufactured by Takata—including families whose loved ones were injured as a result of an airbag explosion—may be eligible to file a lawsuit against Takata or the automakers who manufactured these vehicles.
Heygood, Orr & Pearson has handled hundreds of cases involving product liability, personal injury, and other legal matters on behalf of our clients. Our firm believes that when companies fail to ensure that their products meet basic safety standards or hide evidence about their dangers, they should be held accountable for the injuries caused by their products in a court of law.
The attorneys at Heygood, Orr & Pearson are trial lawyers in the truest sense of the term, having tried hundreds of cases to verdict and achieved settlements in hundreds more. Our lawyers have secured verdicts and settlements for our clients totaling more than $200 million. We are committed to achieving justice for our clients, whatever the cost.
For a free legal consultation and to talk with an attorney about whether you may be eligible to file a lawsuit, contact the law firm of Heygood, Orr & Pearson by calling toll-free at 1-877-446-9001. You can also reach us by following the link to our free case evaluation form and answering a few simple questions to get started.