Author’s note: This is the second in a two-part article about the largest auto part safety recall in history, the recall of Takata airbag inflators. The inflators are currently tied to 23 deaths and 290 serious injuries. (Read Part 1 of this article here)
If you’ve been injured in a car accident * that may have been caused by a faulty auto part, we strongly recommend that you contact an experienced personal injury attorney immediately. Seek an auto accident lawyer with the financial resources and knowledge to fully develop your claim and who doesn’t shrink from filing lawsuits against large corporations, negotiating with them, and seeing a case through to trial when necessary.
Throughout the federal government’s investigations into the Takata airbag debacle, automakers have been painted as victims of Takata’s false claims as to the safety of their product. In recent years, however, new information has come to light that casts doubt on those self-serving characterizations.
For example, Honda – in whose cars nearly all the airbag deaths have occurred – seems to have been clearly aware of the inflator’s risks. Court filings say Honda tested Takata’s inflators in 1999 and 2000, and at least two inflators ruptured.1
GM, it seems, made fully informed choices to ignore dangers in favor of lower costs. Nearly 20 years ago, GM demanded its then-supplier of airbags, Autoliv, match Takata’s offer of cheaper airbags or lose GM’s business. Autoliv looked at ammonium nitrate and ran several tests before refusing to adopt the compound for its own airbag inflators. The New York Times reported in 2016 that Autoliv scientists believed that their concerns had been communicated to automakers.
Takata’s employees were pressured, they said, to meet car manufacturers’ demands for “just-in-time” deliveries. The Times reports that workers “were often told that if a client like Honda or Toyota was required to stop production at their plants because of a late Takata shipment, the parts supplier would be fined tens of thousands of dollars for every minute of lost production.”2
A class action suit filed in March 2018 refers to documents in earlier class action suits and alleges that GM, Fiat Chrysler, Volkswagen and Mercedes knew the airbags were dangerous, but kept using them for years in order to save money.
Funding is being provided to compensate injury victims and surviving family members. Thirteen automakers are contributing to a fund of up to $130 million to compensate airbag injury victims. Separately, Honda agreed to create a trust to fully fund compensation of victims injured or killed in airbag-related incidents that happened in its cars. As noted above, the majority of Takata airbag related deaths have happened in Hondas.
Personal injury lawyers play an important role beyond championing the interests of existing victims. They frequently are the first to push back against an industry that all too often purchases the cheapest parts regardless of known safety issues. The practice is hardly new. A famous early modern example involves the Ford Pinto of the 1970s. Placement of the gas tank made it susceptible to rupturing during rear-end collisions, and several deadly fires are associated with the Pinto. Ford’s own analysis showed 180 fewer people would die if a new design were used, but the upgrade would cost $11 per car. Ford chose not to implement the change.3 It was litigation by injury attorneys that prompted publicity about the Pinto and outrage about these types of cost-benefit analyses by corporations. But the Pinto debacle wasn’t the end of such practices, and injury litigation continues to play a vital role in prodding automakers to use safer parts and safer designs.
If you’ve been injured in a car accident or have lost a loved one due to someone else’s negligence, contact us today. We’ve recovered more than $125 million for our clients and we’re ready to assist you in seeking your optimum financial recovery.
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?”
Are You Driving with Faulty Takata Airbags?
With so many recalled Takata airbags still unrepaired, some estimate 1 in 8 drivers have potentially deadly airbags in their vehicles. The risk is worse with so-called “Alpha” airbags, which have a 50% chance of exploding. These airbags are installed in certain 2001-2003 Honda and Acura vehicles. These cars should be repaired immediately – the airbag replacement is free. The danger is so serious that the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA) is urging people not only to check their own vehicle’s Vehicle Identification Number (VIN) to see whether it is included in the recall, but to urge anyone they know with the affected model year cars to do so, as well.
Other vehicles, including certain Ford Rangers, are under “Do Not Drive” warnings as well. Owners should have such vehicles repaired wherever they currently are parked or towed to a repair shop. On-site service or towing is being offered at no charge to the truck owner.
The defective Takata airbag inflators are most prone to failure after exposure to heat and humidity, so those living in the southern United States and other locales with similar climate also are at higher risk, but all those whose airbags are under recall should have them replaced. Some vehicle makes and models may not be under current recall but are set to be recalled later, and recent expansions of the recall mean that even if you’ve checked your VIN previously, another look at the NHTSA online recall site is wise. NHTSA encourages consumers to check its website twice a year – for example, when Daylight Savings Time begins and ends – to see whether their vehicle is affected by any open recalls.
Here is a link to NHTSA’s Recalls Lookup Tool, where you can use your VIN to see whether your vehicle is affected by safety recalls. Your 17-character VIN can be found on the lower left of your car’s windshield. It also can be found on your car’s registration card.