If you are concerned, but ultimately overwhelmed and confused by the air bag safety crisis, you are not alone. Here, our defective air bag lawyers attempt to demystify some of the most important information, including confidential documents unsealed in court and the victims at the center of these lawsuits.
To date, Takata has recalled 28 million vehicles for defective airbags, making history as the most significant safety issue ever in in the U.S. Takata also made history when it was fined $200 million by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) the most the NHTSA has ever fined a company in a civil penalty.
Incredibly, the Japanese company still insists its airbags are safe, despite clear and irrefutable evidence to the contrary. In fact, testimony given in February 2016 proved that Takatas own engineers purposefully discarded evidence that would prove the company knew beyond a reasonable doubt. Perhaps this is why Takata feels confident stating its innocence; it destroyed all data and documents proving its guilt years ago.
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The problem with Takatas airbags is in the compound ammonium nitrate, which propels the airbags to deploy. In 2000, when ammonium nitrate was introduced into Takata’s airbags, repeated failures occurred during the company’s internal testing. In many instances, the compound causes the airbag to overpressurize and explode when deployed, potentially spraying metal shards very similar to shrapnel at passengers.
Trials, Testimony, and Life-Changing Injuries
In his testimony, former Takata airbag engineer Thomas Sheridan stated that he tried to examine the airbag parts that failed in tests, but found the parts were discarded under orders from Takata’s vice president for engineering. The same vice president, who still works at Takata, was also tied to a series of airbag tests a few years later, from which evidence was also discarded.
Sheridan’s testimony is central in the case against Takata filed by a now-paralyzed Florida woman. She was involved in an accident in 2014 in her Honda Civic, during which her airbag deployed too forcefully, causing her paralysis.
Takata never reported the airbag’s testing failures to Honda, even though the airbag showed defects again in 2004 and 2007. Instead, the company manipulated the testing data to conceal proof that the airbag could violently combust, causing the casing to over-pressurize and rupture. Sheridan stated that this manipulation was a complete breakdown of the entire organization to provide a safe product.
The defective airbags have been linked to over 100 injuries and at least ten deaths. Although 28 million vehicles have been recalled, Takata has sold 54 million ammonium nitrate airbags in the U.S.
Safety experts have called Takata’s failure to report defects, disposal of evidence, and data manipulation deplorable and unbelievable. Honda has dropped Takata has its airbag supplier.
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Another airbag injury lawsuit was recently filed by a woman permanently disfigured in a crash with her Volkswagen Jetta. The woman was turning off a highway when she struck a curb, causing the airbag to deploy. The airbag inflated with such excessive force that it ripped her skin, muscle and tissue from her forearm. She filed suit against Volkswagen and the airbags manufacturer, TRW Vehicle Safety Systems.
Volkswagen is also impacted by the Takata recalls. Instead of dropping the company as its supplier, however, Volkswagen resisted recalling its vehicles with Takata airbags at all. According to NHTSA documents, Volkswagen called the request to recall 850,000 defective vehicles overboard.
The automaker believes the defective airbags were made at Takata’s manufacturing plants in Georgia and Mexico (since ammonium nitrate is sensitive to high temperatures and moisture, the plants in these areas are being partially blamed for the defects). Volkswagen claims the Georgia and Mexico plants did not have adequate air conditioning and humidity controls, and that most of its airbags were made in a plant in Germany, which has appropriate air conditioning monitoring.
It is going to take a long time for this crisis to be resolved, particularly because the automotive industry is so uncooperative. To lesson your risk of getting into an accident that would cause an explosive airbag to deploy, here are some of our top tips for staying safe on the road:
- Stop texting, emailing, and going on social media while driving.
- Never drink or do drugs and drive even after just one or two drinks.
- Stop tailgating, speeding, swerving, and other unsafe behaviors. Speed is bar far the largest indicator that an accident will be fatal.
The auto accident lawyers at Pintas & Mullins Law Firm have been representing injured drivers, passengers and pedestrians for 30 years. We have the knowledge, experience and special skills to go up against multi-billion dollar corporations like Takata and Volkswagen. If you have any questions about a potential auto case, contact our firm for a free case review.