We are in the midst of an unprecedented recall crisis. Top safety regulators recently announced that at least 35 million additional airbags made by Japanese supplier Takata need to be fixed, nearly doubling what is already the largest automotive recall in U.S. history. The airbags can rupture or explode with excessive force and shoot metal shrapnel into vehicle occupant compartments. At least 13 deaths and more than 100 injuries worldwide have been linked to the defective airbags.
But, perhaps what is most disturbing is that automakers are still selling new vehicles in the U.S. with defective Takata airbags despite knowing the serious risk they pose to consumers. This means that consumers are unknowingly purchasing vehicles that eventually will be recalled, and in the meantime, are driving ticking time bombs that put them at risk of being severely injured or killed.
A Senate report just released confirmed four automakers – Toyota Motor Corp., Fiat Chrysler Automobiles, Volkswagen AG and Mitsubishi Motors Corp. – are continuing to sell some vehicles with ammonium-nitrate-based propellant airbag inflators without a chemical drying agent confirmed to be the root cause of the inflators’ propensity to rupture. U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.) and the report’s author said in a statement:
“What’s troubling here is that consumers are buying new cars not realizing they’re going to be recalled. These cars shouldn’t be sold until they’re fixed.”
The vehicles, however, continue to be sold despite a mandate to recall all affected vehicles by 2018, and public disclosure of all new vehicles that will need to be recalled is not required. Still, if the airbags in these vehicles cause serious injury or death, they could be subject to product liability lawsuits.
At issue is Takata’s use of a compound called ammonium nitrate that acts like a propellant to create a small explosion that inflates the airbags in a crash. The chemical propellant is housed in a metal canister designed to contain the explosion. But, ammonium nitrate can deteriorate and become unstable over time or when it is exposed to moisture in high heat and humidity, causing the propellant to burn too fast; blow apart the metal canister; and send shrapnel into the necks and faces of vehicle occupants.
Over the years, Takata grappled with the composition of the compound and eventually added a drying agent to make it more stable and absorb moisture, according to The New York Times. The new recalls focus on airbags without the drying agent.
The first Takata airbag recall of about 4,000 vehicles occurred in 2008, but the company insisted for years that the problem was not in the design of the airbag inflators and instead blamed manufacturing flaws or quality control problems. During that time, however, Takata hid results of failed tests and manipulated data to meet automakers’ safety requirements, according to media reports.
More Recalls to Come
The expanded recall brings the total of recalled Takata airbags to at least 63 million, potentially affecting nearly one in four of the 250 million vehicles on U.S. roads, according to The New York Times. The recall will be carried out in phases, with older vehicles in high-humidity areas being top priority.
Ford Motor Co. just announced a Takata airbag recall for an additional 1.9 million vehicles. Earlier this week, eight automakers agreed to recall 12 million more vehicles in the U.S. over defective Takata airbags.
I have seen firsthand the devastation that a Takata airbag injury causes to victims. Our firm recently resolved a Takata airbag lawsuit on behalf of a young man who suffered severe and permanent injuries as a result of a crash in Paducah, Ky. Unfortunately, more injuries will occur.
How can automakers continue to sell new vehicles with defective Takata airbags? It’s simple: Profits over human safety. Unfortunately, I see this corporate behavior in nearly every auto product defect case our firm handles. I urge consumers to be diligent in their research to ensure they are not purchasing or driving vehicles with defective airbags. Take a few minutes to get the vehicle identification number (VIN) from your car and check it on safercar.gov to see if your vehicle is included in the recall.
As an attorney at Langdon & Emison with offices in Kansas City and St. Louis, Missouri as well as Chicago, Illinois, David Brose represents victims across the country that have been seriously injured or killed in a wide variety of accidents, including automobile fires, defective automobile design, semi-truck collisions and other types of dangerous products.