Takata Airbag Injuries
The car industry is currently in crisis as it struggles to both determine the extent of a massive airbag recall and to find an efficient and effective repair process for millions of consumers operating highly dangerous vehicles. In April 2013, Takata, a Japanese airbag manufacturer, announced an airbag recall in the wake of several deaths caused by shrapnel flying from its airbags and fatally striking drivers and front-seat passengers. Although Takata initially issued the recall for six car brands, more and more automakers have come forward over the past several months, recalling airbags in their vehicles as Takata has admitted to not knowing which customers bought airbags with the defective pieces, or even what specific part of their airbags is causing the problem. The recall has ballooned to unprecedented size, now encompassing millions of vehicles in the U.S., spanning over 24 car brands, and car manufactures continue to add to the list. As recently as December 4th, Toyota, Ford, and Chrysler all issued updated vehicle recall lists, increasing the number of cars requiring replacement airbags.
Airbags are supposed to deploy automatically, and rapidly, in high impact car crashes. To do so, airbags contain a propellant that is supposed to burn upon impact and emit gas, which inflates the airbag. The Takata airbags, however, contain a propellant that appears to be severely too strong, and has resulted in metal parts flying through the airbags and hitting the car occupants.
The NY Times reported a particularly egregious case in October, in which a woman emerged from a car accident with what appeared to be stab wounds around her neck. Doctors were perplexed with the injuries until a week after her death when Honda recalled her car for faulty airbags. As of October 2014, four deaths have been associated with Takata airbags, with many more injured.
Allegations are now surfacing that Takata knew about the defect in its airbags long before issuing the recall. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has stepped in and, in October, issued a warning to consumers of affected vehicles to immediate turn their cars in for replacement airbags. After a Congressional hearing regarding the crisis, NHTSA asked Takata to expand its recall list but Takata has refused to cooperate with the NHTSA. Most reports of exploding Takata airbags come from humid regions, particularly Florid and Hawaii, and Takata has therefore only issued regional recalls, refusing NHTSA’s request to issue a national recall. Because NHTSA cannot itself issue the recall, it must first hold a public hearing on the Takata airbag recall, gather public comments regarding injuries sustained from the airbags, and then can ask a court to enforce a national recall. NHTSA has also criticized several car manufacturers, including Honda and Chrysler, for not being forthcoming with information regarding problems experienced by their consumers, and for not recalling a sufficient number of vehicles.
The recall problem is compounded by the shortage of replacement parts currently available. Honda announced that it is working with Auotliv and Daicel, two other airbag suppliers, to increase production of replacement parts, but with so many vehicles being recalled the process is bound to be slow and leave consumers with unsafe cars for long periods. Takata estimated that it would take the company 1 to 2 years to fill the current replacement demand. But because Takata has yet to determine the specific cause of the exploding airbags, it is not certain that replacement parts will be safe either. The question remains whether the explosions were caused by sustained exposure to high temperatures, or by the propellant Takata uses, or some combination of those and other factors.
Injuries sustained as a result of Takata airbags clearly have the potential to be severe, and have resulted in death. People who have sustained such injuries, or who have lost loved ones due to the airbags have legal recourse. Products liability law typically holds everyone in the chain of distribution responsible to a consumer for injuries sustained as a result of a defective product. Designers, manufacturers, and sellers of products all have a legal duty to sell only reasonably safe products. Where defective products are placed in the market for consumption, and injuries occur, the law usually holds all of these entities liable to an injured consumer if the product was unreasonably dangerous. The cause of the product’s defect can either be a defect in the design of the product, or a problem with how that specific unit was manufactured, or a failure to contain a sufficient warning as to a danger created by using the product.
If successful in a products liability action, the consumer can recover medical expenses, lost wages, diminished earning potential, and pain and suffering damages. If a defective product resulted in the death of a member of your family, you can bring a wrongful death claim on their behalf and receive damages for pain and suffering, lost income, loss of companionship and consortium, burial and funeral expenses, and medical expenses.
As more information becomes available concerning the cause of the Takata airbag failures, consumers will have a better idea of how to proceed in products liability suits against Takata, car manufacturers, and dealerships. However, it is not too early to contact a personal injury attorney and begin planning your case. Injured consumers have immediate medical expenses that should be paid for by those responsible for their injuries. In addition, it is crucial to develop a thorough medical record of injuries sustained, treatment required, and long-term care needs, and to preserve physical evidence from the accident.
If you or a loved one was involved in a car accident involving a Takata air bag, you should immediately contact an experienced personal injury attorney. The expert attorneys at the law offices of Altman & Altman are ready to help you decide how to pursue your claim and get the compensation you deserve. Call us today for a free and confidential case consultation. We are available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week to answer your questions and we will work relentlessly on your behalf.