Japanese-based airbag manufacturer Takata—now owned by the company Key Safety Systems after declaring bankruptcy in 2017—is at the center of a massive product recall affecting at least 63 million cars and trucks. Takata officials blamed lack of quality control, admitting that they did not take proper precautions in the handling of the propellant used in the manufacture of the dangerous airbags. Of the 63 million airbags recalled, 11 million have yet to be fixed.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has called the fiasco “the largest and most complex safety recall in U.S. history.”
More than two dozen automakers have now recalled vehicles equipped with Takata airbags. Honda alone has recalled close to 10 million cars. Toyota, BMW, Nissan, Fiat Chrysler, Ford and others are not far behind. General Motors attempted to avoid the recall, but their petition was denied by the NHTSA. The automaker now says it will recall 7 million vehicles worldwide at a cost of more than one billion dollars.
The airbag’s inflator, a metal cartridge loaded with propellant wafers, is the root cause of the problem. The inflator housing has been known to rupture when the airbag is deployed, sending metal shrapnel flying towards occupants, quickly turning a lifesaving device into a deadly weapon.
Takata used ammonium nitrate, a volatile chemical, to inflate the airbags in the event of a crash. The airbags were supposed to operate so that, the moment a crash occurred, the ammonium nitrate would create a small explosion, causing the airbags to deploy and stop occupants from colliding with the steering wheel or dashboard. However, ammonium nitrate deteriorates over time—especially when exposed to excess moisture. And because Takata did not include a drying agent inside the inflator unit, trace amounts of moisture in the inflator cartridge destabilize the ammonium nitrate propellant, causing an airbag inflation that sends metal shards flying around the cabin.
Environmental concerns such as high outdoor temperatures and high humidity, combined with vehicle age, can render a Takata airbag unsafe.
To date, the defective airbags have caused 17 deaths and more than 200 injuries in the U.S.
Though the safety recalls have now been in effect for nearly a decade, deaths and injuries as a result of the airbags still occur.
In August 2020, the driver of a 2002 Honda Civic involved in a car accident died due to the exploding airbag. A year prior, in March 2019, another driver of a 2002 Honda Civic sustained major injuries due to the exploding airbag. In both cases, Honda and the NHTSA confirmed that the airbag inflator was at fault.
But it’s not just early-2000 Honda owners who are at risk. The NHTSA called on drivers of the 2006 Ford Ranger, 2006 Mazda B-Series Pickup, 1999 BMW 323i and 328i, and some 2001 to 2003 model year Hondas and Acuras to stop driving and seek immediate repairs. These models were deemed to be at extreme risk, as all the vehicles from these makes and model years contained so-called “alpha” airbags, which are considered the most dangerous units.
Be advised that the vehicles mentioned above are not the only vehicles, models, or brands included in the recall. Use the NHTSA’s online airbag recall lookup tool to find out if your vehicle is subject to a recall.
Takata was hit with a massive fine for covering up their defective airbags.
In 2017, federal prosecutors fined the auto-parts company one billion dollars for concealing information about the faulty airbags. Criminal charges were levied against three Takata executives who worked to hide their knowledge of defective inflators. The court documents suggest that Takata knew of the danger surrounding the airbags as early as the year 2000, but schemed to deceive automakers, deleting unfavorable performance testing results and falsifying other records.
$850 million of the one billion dollar fine went to automakers as restitution. $125 million was earmarked as restitution for those injured as a result of the defect.
Injured by a recalled Takata airbag? You may be able to receive compensation.
If you or a family member was injured by Takata’s faulty airbag, you have options when it comes to seeking compensation. When Takata filed bankruptcy, they were forced to create the Takata Airbag Tort Compensation Trust Fund (TATCTF) and an Individual Restitution Fund (IRF) to pay settlements to people who were injured or lost a loved one due to the faulty airbags.
Though it is not required to speak about your compensation claim with an injury attorney, it is highly advised. In fact, the funds’ trustees recommend consulting a lawyer, as legal issues surrounding your claim may be complex. Turning to an experienced legal attorney can help you make the injury claim and receive the compensation you deserve.
These funds are not your only recourse in the case of injury. The personal injury lawyers at Penney & Associates can review your case and depending on the facts surrounding your injury, may advise bringing a personal injury claim to court. Similarly, if a loved one has been killed as a result of the defective airbags, we may advise pursuing a wrongful death claim to recover damages.
If you have any concern as to whether your car is affected by the recall, do not hesitate to use the NHTSA’s online recall lookup tool or contact the manufacturer of your vehicle for more information.