GM Takta Lawsuit Failure to Deploy & Faulty Airbags

Michael Bennett
March 29, 2016 - 1337 Views

Have You Been Hurt by a Defective Airbag? Did it fail to deploy? We can help. Complete the form to your right or call us today. ALERT: Airbag maker Takata to pay $1 billion to settle US air bag probe. Source: Wall Street Journal

Defective airbags are the target of recent recall efforts by watchdog organizations like the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and vehicle manufacturers in the U.S. and around the world, after vehicle occupants were injured or killed by the devices as the airbags exploded rather than inflated during accidents. The explosions are caused by faulty inflators, which disintegrate, tossing metal shards at high speeds to act like shrapnel, injuring vehicle occupants instead of protecting them in a crash situation.

Although it is alleged that manufacturer Takata knew of this problem as early as 2000, an official recall effort in the U.S. only began November 26, 2014, when the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration formally demanded a nationwide recall of vehicles equipped with Takata driver-side airbags. Recalls since have now been issued for millions of vehicles in the U.S. and other countries.

Airbag Protection System

Airbags are part of a vehicle safety system that is supposed to provide protection for the occupants when there is an impact. The devices are hidden behind small doors that open upon expansion of the airbag, which inflates to provide a cushion-style protection. The airbags contain a part called an inflator that contains a chemical propellant that expands when activated by a certain level of impact.
Recently, defective airbags have resulted in injury or death, and those reported accidents sparked recalls that involved millions of vehicles in the U.S. One of the airbag manufacturers, Takata, produced between 260 million and 285 million of the airbags that contained inflators that contained an ammonium nitrate propellant in the period covering the years 2000 – 2015. At least half of those airbags were installed on vehicles in the U.S.

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Being harmed because a parts manufacturer was negligent in their duty to create a safe product that works as promised, or they fail to warn consumers of potential dangers is unpleasant, costly and can even result in death. Get the best possible results by working with our experienced Personal Injury Attorney. Call for your free consultation today to get started. Complete the form to the right for immediate consultation.

How Airbags Work

This process is relatively simple, and extremely fast. When there is an impact that causes the car to decelerate quickly, an electronic chip called an accelerometer detects that change in speed. At a certain point of deceleration, but not during normal braking, the airbag circuit is triggered by that chip. This airbag circuit then passes an electric current through a specific heating element, which ignites a chemical mixture that explodes. This explosion generates a large amount of a harmless gas that in turn floods the airbag.

The nylon airbag to this point has been hidden behind a plastic cover in the steering wheel or dash area. The expansion of the airbag forces the cover off and the airbag continues to inflate directly in front of the driver or occupant. The bag also is coated with a lightweight powdery substance that helps it unwrap smoothly and quickly. Since the impact forces the driver or occupant forward, they are cushioned by the inflated bag. At this point the bag quickly deflates, having protected the occupant. This avoids problems that might occur when a passenger or driver would have if the bag did not deflate quickly. The gas inside the bag escapes through small holes that are at the edges of the airbag.

Defective Airbags

There are several causes of airbags which failed to deploy, including defective parts. The most apparent cause for airbag failures is explosion of the inflator part that projects small metal parts like shrapnel through the vehicle at speeds estimated at between 100 and 220 mph. Other reasons for airbag failure to deploy point to atmospheric effects, physical properties of the device and the propellant chemicals that are used to explode the airbag.

GM Defective Ignition Switch Lawsuit + Recall Facts

  • Regional Atmospheric Effects – According to NHTSA reports, there appears to be a relationship between extended exposure of the airbags to high humidity and temperatures. Many airbag failures occurred in regions that are in warm and moist climates, such as Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Texas, Mississippi, and the U.S. territories of Guam, Puerto Rico, American Samoa, Saipan, Hawaii and the Virgin Islands. In addition to the regional character of airbag failure to deploy reports, Car & Driver reported that the maker of airbags, Takata, tried to blame failures on the effects that humid weather had on the propellant chemicals that expand and open the airbags.
  • Airbag Construction – Some problems arise from basic airbag construction. If the inflators are overpowered, that can cause the airbag to overinflate and explode. Untethered airbags will not provide proper protection. Technology that is outdated and inaccurate ECU software can cause malfunctions to happen. If enough of the crash sensors that active the airbag system are not optimally located, the airbag would not inflate in time to offer protection. In adequate venting can cause harm to the occupant, and improper folding of the airbag can cause a malfunction.
  • Propellant Chemicals – Airbags operate though activation of a mechanism that ignites and starts a chemical reaction that fills the airbag rapidly with gas. Speeds of the expanding gas can reach up to 200 miles per hour or more. The propellant chemical used in the Takata airbags is ammonium nitrate. It inflates in milliseconds and can be used in smaller airbags. The downside to this chemical mixture is that moisture can render it unstable, which leads to the concerns about use in regions that have high absolute humidity. The unstable chemical may create too strong a force when ignited, and become hazardous. No scientific data supports that conclusion, and airbags do fail in other parts of the country that do not have high absolute humidity.

Car Brands & Manufacturers

Car & Driver lists at least 24 brands affected by recalls, from Audi to Volkswagen, including many U.S. brands. Millions of vehicles with Takata airbags are included in recalls. This problem started quietly, possibly as far back as 2000, and it grew slowly until the NHTSA finally issued a formal recall in 2014. Some allegations claim that Takata knew of the problem, but kept it secret. Honda also was aware of airbag malfunctioning, but they did not report any link of airbag failures to injuries or deaths.

Once the issue of defective airbags was brought to light and enforcement actions were started, car manufacturers cooperated. Dealers can help owners determine if their vehicle is listed for recall and replacement of airbags by tracking VIN numbers through manufacturer databases. This information is also easily available online, and at various websites, including caranddriver.com or NHTSA.gov. Vehicle owners already contacted by their manufacturer are advised to contact their dealer service department to arrange for repairs.

Model years affected begin at 2000, and each manufacturer may have multiple models that need this repair. Recalls potentially affect up to 34 million vehicles in the U.S. alone. Car Brands listed as needing airbag replacements include:

  • Acura
  • Audi
  • BMW
  • Buick
  • Cadillac
  • Chevrolet
  • Chrysler
  • Daimler
  • Dodge/Ram
  • Ford
  • GMC
  • Honda
  • Infiniti
  • Lexus
  • Mazda
  • Mercedes-Benz
  • Mitsubishi
  • Nissan
  • Pontiac
  • Saab
  • Saturn
  • Toyota
  • Volkswagen

Timeline

It is alleged that Takata knew about this issue back in 2000, but did not report problems to authorities until 2008. Documents have been reviewed by Reuters showing that there was a defect rate at Takata’s Mexico plant that was above acceptable limits. These defects translated into production of about 60 to 80 defects in every million airbags that were shipped. The defective airbag problem continued unreported and unresolved until NHTSA took action in 2014.

2014

  • November 7 – A criminal investigation by the Department of Justice was called for by two U.S. Senators. On November 13, Takata responded with a denial and called allegations fundamentally inaccurate. They indicated that they would cooperate fully with the investigation. They denied there were any hidden tests done in 2004 on defective airbag inflators.
  • November 18 – NHTSA called for a nationwide recall of vehicles equipped with Takata airbags.
  • November 20 – A hearing was held with Congress, including motorists who had been injured due to defective airbags, automakers and officials from Takata. NHTSA was accused of slow response to the airbag problems. Automakers were scolded for being slow to make repairs.
  • November 26 – A formal demand was made by the U.S. NHTSA for Takata to do a nationwide recall. Japan expanded their recall after another airbag rupture occurred during testing.

During December of 2014, Toyota and Honda urged more testing efforts. Takata and NHTSA gave statements about the production problems in government hearings. NHTSA wanted expansion of the driver’s-side airbag recalls nationwide, but not passenger side airbags, because that would cause problems with the supply of replacement parts. Recalls were expanded by Honda, Chrysler, Ford and Toyota, but the NHTSA was not satisfied with those efforts. Recalls were expanded to new regions and included earlier years. By December 30, 2014, BMW added more vehicles to its nationwide recall. The Takata president stepped down from his position while other top executives took significant cuts in pay.

2015

  • February – Takata increased capacity for production of replacement inflators. New reports continue to come in of persons injured due to defective airbag failures. By February 20, Takata was being fined $14,000 per day for failure to cooperate with a federal investigation.
  • March – Honda began an advertising campaign to advise owners of Honda and Acura cars to check for recalls. Honda added more vehicles to this list. In the U.S., only 12 percent of cars were repaired; in Japan that number was much higher, at 70 percent.
  • April – Nissan added 2006 Sentras to their recall list and Honda stated that a ruptured airbag in a 2003 Civic cause that driver’s injury.
  • May –Takata admitted that there are now 34 million vehicles with defective airbags, making this the largest in U.S. history. The company also agreed to pay significant fines to the U.S. government for their lack of cooperation in investigations. Takata changed its propellant due to degradation problems and moisture-related issues. Manufacturers added millions more vehicles and newer model years to their recall lists, including some 2014 Mustang models.
  • June – Congressional hearings, discussions about propellants, problems with replacement airbag inflators, new lawsuits, now 11 carmakers involved, and more deaths due to airbag failures, Takata still does not guarantee replacement parts. Takata’s company president offers a public apology for injuries and deaths caused by their airbags.
  • July – Additional recalls and more accidents. Dodge added 90,000 Challengers from 2008 to 2010 to their recall list.
  • August – Increase in awareness campaigns by Takata to consumers, especially in high-humidity areas. Volkswagen joins other manufacturers facing the airbag problem.
  • September – NHTSA reduces its estimate of vehicles affected by the Takata recall from 34 million to just below 20 million.
  • October – General Motors recalls hundreds of 2015 model year vehicles. Nationwide, only 22.5 percent of vehicles recalled have been fixed.
  • November – NHTSA fines Takata a record amount, $70 million, with a potential total up to $200 million. They order Takata to stop producing and selling inflators that use a certain propellant, phase-stabilized ammonium nitrate. Honda, Takata’s biggest customer, announces they will no longer use Takata airbag components. Others join this ban, including Toyota, Mazda, Nissan, and Ford.
  • December – Takata airbag inflators that contain the ammonium nitrate propellant are banned by Japan’s transport ministry.

2016

  • January – Emails reveal Takata received reports of airbag ruptures as early as 2000. Additional recalls and more injuries and deaths due to Takata airbag failures.
  • February – Mazda has issued 442,266 recalls for driver’s-side airbag inflators and 416,475 for passenger-side inflators. Honda issues stop-sale orders for many models; if dealers do not comply, they could be liable in lawsuits. Replacement parts are limited, with priority given to orders for vehicles that are older and in high-humidity locations.
  • March – Additional recalls continue.

Airbag Failures – Injuries

Injuries caused by airbag deployment failures usually affect the upper body area and head. This can be very serious. Typical injuries include burns, blindness, broken bones, and even decapitation. When the airbag inflator bursts, shrapnel-like pieces of metal are ejected a high speeds and can easily pierce skin and bones. The victim may bleed to death or require extensive medical treatment.

Defective Airbag Lawsuits

There is one class action lawsuit, but it only includes plaintiffs from 9 states. These lawsuits are Personal Injury lawsuits, and victims seek compensation to recover financial and non-economic damages from accidents due to defective parts. Lawsuits claim that the producers of the airbags and vehicle manufacturers were negligent in their duty to provide a safe product and to warn of any potential hazards from using those products.

Compensatory damages include expenses incurred due to accident injuries or a death. Victims can seek recovery for medical care costs, lost income, and non-economic items like physical, emotional and psychological pain and suffering, lost companionship/guidance and lost prospects. In some cases, plaintiffs are also awarded punitive damages.

Defective Airbags Attorney

Insurance companies and manufacturers may not pay the full amount of expenses due to accident injuries, so the plaintiff may hire an experienced Personal Injury Attorney to recover additional amounts needed. It is best to get a free consultation with an experienced defective airbags attorney immediately if you or a loved one has been harmed due to airbags which failed to deploy. They will provide legal advice and representation to help you determine your eligibility and can help you win damage claims and fair compensation that you deserve. You may be eligible to obtain additional compensation beyond any initial settlement as well.

Manufacturers may resist paying the full cost of your medical care, lost income and other claims, or they may totally refuse a claim. There are statutes of limitations for making personal injury claims in each state. Your attorney will help you file on time, but you need to consult with them right away. If you are eligible to participate in an existing class action lawsuit, they can help you join that group.

Get Legal Help Now!

Being harmed because a parts manufacturer was negligent in their duty to create a safe product that works as promised, or they fail to warn consumers of potential dangers is unpleasant, costly and can even result in death. Get the best possible results by working with our experienced Personal Injury Attorney. Call for your free consultation today to get started.

Michael Bennett

About Michael Bennett

Michael Bennett is Editor-in-Chief of Consumer Protect.com. Since 1999, he's worked across a multitude of areas of consumer protection including defective products, environmental issues, identity theft, predatory lending and more. If you find his articles helpful please share them with your readers.