Many people have heard about the problems with exploding airbags through widely publicized reports in the news media. It may seem to be a huge problem for individuals, and with recalls issued for multi-millions of vehicles, it also is a widespread problem for manufacturers. However, in terms of potential danger to drivers or passengers, the truth and risk potential is less dramatic. Regardless, anytime notice of a recall for a vehicle is issued, action should follow to get the problem resolved.
Airbags that function normally have saved over 37,000 lives; non-functioning or defective airbags have harmed a far lesser number of people. The primary manufacturer of defective airbags is a Japanese company, Takata. As of January 2017, only about 180 injuries and 16 deaths worldwide have been linked to defective Takata airbags. Due to the potential risk of serious harm or death, the airbag issue should be taken seriously by consumers.
History – Timeline
Recalls of Takata airbags date back to 2008, and major recalls were made starting in 2013. Those recalls were expanded in 2014 and additional recalls have been issued in later years, with the last expansion publicized in December 2016. Worldwide, these recalls affect 42 million vehicles, and 34 brands. Manufacturers bear the responsibility for replacement of defective airbags, and they will receive compensation estimated at $850 million from Takata to reimburse them for making needed repairs or replacements.
It was determined that Takata actually knew of the airbag problems back in 2004, but that they deliberately hid the facts. In a January 17, 2017 court decision about this, Takata pleaded guilty to corporate criminal charges. Three former executives were indicted, and Takata has agreed to pay a fine of $1 billion, according to the Justice Department. As part of these findings, Takata also will set up a $125 million fund to compensate injury victims and families of those who died due to defective airbags.
Airbags – Function & Defects
Airbags are a relatively simple device that is designed to provide a cushion of air to protect drivers and passengers from hitting interior parts of a vehicle when there is an impact of sufficient force to activate a sensor. This system contains four components: a collision sensor, an ignitor, an inflator device and the airbag cushion material. The entire unit is folded and packed into a special compartment that has a cover that detaches upon inflation of the bag as it expands. The ignitor contains a mixture of chemicals; Takata is the only manufacturer that uses volatile chemical ammonium nitrate as a propellant. The chemicals can also be negatively affected by certain geographic conditions, including high temperature and high humidity.
Defects that have occurred in airbags include non-deployment and malfunction of the system/elements. If the sensor system does not activate upon an impact, the bag will not be available to provide needed protection. If any part of the system malfunctions, the result can be catastrophic. Airbags have been exploded prematurely, without basic cause, and that affects the driver’s ability to control a vehicle. The worst cases that also have resulted in serious injury and deaths involve defective ignitor and inflator devices.
Potential Injuries from Defective Airbags
When ignitor chemicals mix and explode, the force of that explosion can fracture the inflator. That force can send tiny shards of metal from a fractured inflator through the airbag into the vehicle compartment, where they may cause lacerations and in some cases, death.
Head, neck and spinal injuries may occur when defective airbags fail to provide their intended cushioning against collision with hard parts of a vehicle interior, such as steering wheels, dashboards or side panels. The same type of injuries may occur if the person is too close to the inflating airbag and is harmed by the fast inflation action of the bag, especially if the tiny pores that allow immediate softening of the airbag do not work properly.
If the airbag inflates without an impact cause, it can interfere with driver ability to control the vehicle and a secondary result could be a collision with other vehicles, road signs, trees or other obstacles. Chemical burns may occur on the face or other exposed areas of skin, if the airbag is punctured by metal shards from a fractured inflator device.
Legal Actions for Exploding Airbags
When an item of equipment, such as the airbag system, fails and causes harm to someone, the manufacturer is always responsible and may be sued. Other parties may also be included in legal actions, including the producer of a product that used defective parts or improperly installed equipment that later failed because of the improper installation. Nationwide, across the U.S., there already exist several class action lawsuits about exploding airbags that seek to obtain compensation for injured victims or survivors of those who died. Claims include costs of medical bills, pain and suffering and other losses.
Recalls and lawsuits over defective Takata airbags have set records in the legal industry. Recalls of 40 million vehicles for repairs and airbag replacements are part of the most complex and largest auto safety recall effort ever initiated in the United States. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) also has charged Takata with a fine of $200 million, the largest civil penalty in their history, for violating federal laws that are designed to protect vehicle users.
If you or a loved one has been injured in an accident due to airbag failure or malfunction, contact an experienced Personal Injury Attorney immediately. They will be able to advise you about any class action lawsuits you are eligible to join in, or if you should file your own individual lawsuit to recover fair compensation for your injuries and other claims. Additional information about specific model recalls or a link to check your VIN number for recalls is available at www.safercar.gov.