Some victims of exploding Takata airbags had injuries so horrific after their low-speed car crashes that investigators initially believed they’d been murdered. Takata Corp., the Japanese maker of the airbags, and automakers moved swiftly to settle claims by injury survivors or the next of kin of those who died, requiring confidentiality agreements as part of the settlements.
If you’ve been injured in a car accident * and a faulty part may be to blame, it’s crucial that you contact a personal injury attorney with the experience and financial resources to properly handle your claim.
While reaching a settlement often is in the best interest of an individual plaintiff, Takata and automakers including Honda Motor Co., General Motors Co. and Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV, benefited from the confidentiality agreements. They were able to keep news of the disastrous airbag inflator explosions that sent metal shrapnel into the necks, eyes, and heads of victims out of media reports and didn’t report the problems to safety officials, either.
The saga of the biggest auto part safety recall ever, involving the recall of air bag inflators in an estimated 125 million vehicles worldwide, spans decades. It’s the story of choices fueled by desperation, greed, and disregard for human life, as well as of criminal coverups and of the failure of government regulators to protect people.
In a 2009 low-speed crash in Oklahoma, a recently graduated high school senior bled to death after metal shrapnel severed her carotid artery. Ten years after 18-year-old Ashley Parham lost her life in Oklahoma, another 22 people had died worldwide, with an estimated 290 seriously injured by the defective airbags. The airbags rely on a chemical propellant called ammonium nitrate, housed in a metal canister, that can become unstable with exposure to heat and humidity. When it does, the propellant can inflate with too much force, causing the metal canister to blow apart and send sharp, ragged pieces flying throughout the passenger cabin of the car.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) investigated Takata but closed its file in 2010 with no enforcement action. It was only in 2014 that NHTSA reopened its investigation, eventually leading to a $200 million civil penalty and to NHTSA taking over coordination of the airbag recall campaign. Though the recall began with some automakers in 2013, it has been slow going. Fewer than half the vehicles scheduled for replacement inflators had been repaired by the end of 2018. Tens of millions of unsafe Takata inflators remain on U.S. roads.
Just how brazenly Takata acted in covering up the dangers of its inflators, installed in vehicles made by 19 different manufacturers, is clear not only from the guilty pleas of three top executives but from the heavy penalties levied against the company, which quickly went bankrupt.
Settling a criminal probe in 2015, the U.S. Department of Transportation levied the largest civil penalty in the history of NHTSA against Takata, demanding $70 million be paid immediately and $130 million to be paid if Takata should violate its settlement agreement with NHTSA.
In 2017, Takata pleaded guilty in U.S. District Court to one felony count of wire fraud for providing false data and agreed to pay $1 billion in criminal penalties. About $125 million was set aside for victims, with $850 million going to automakers who had purchased the inflators to compensate for their recall and litigation expenses.
Personal injury and wrongful death cases have been the exclusive focus of Suk Law Firm since 1988, and we have recovered more than $125 million on behalf of victims. Contact us today. Our knowledgeable attorneys have the expertise and resources to fully develop your claim and see it through to a trial if necessary.
Besides Rochester, we serve the following major southeast Minnesota cities: Red Wing, Winona, Mankato, Austin, Albert Lea, and Owatonna, and all outlying communities, as well as the cities of Minneapolis, St. Paul, Duluth, and Bloomington. We also serve the Iowa cities of Mason City, Charles City, Osage, Spencer, Garner, Forest City, and Northwood and the Wisconsin cities of La Crosse, Onalaska, Sparta, Viroqua, River Falls, Ellsworth, Whitehall, and Black River Falls.
*A note about language:
Federal agencies involved in traffic safety have banned use of the word “accident” for more than 20 years, and with good reason. However, we use the word “accident” on our website, even though we know it has implications that run contrary to our professional thinking and training, because we recognize that “accident” is the word most commonly used in online searches when people are looking for help after being injured in a crash. If you’d like more information about this topic, please see our blog, “Car Accident or Car Crash?”
www.news.com.au “The Face Behind the Airbag Deaths that Caused the World’s Biggest Car Recall”
www.reuters.com “Honda to Recall About 1 Million Vehicles in US to Replace Defective Takata Airbags”
www.justice.gov “Takata Corporation Agrees to Plead Guilty and Pay $1 Billion in Criminal Penalties for Airbag Scheme”