Takata Corporation, the Japanese airbag parts manufacturer, continues to have difficulty dealing with the demands of the U.S. safety regulators at the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).
Reports of Secret Testing
Recent reports from former employees of Takata alleged that the company knew of defects in its airbags as far back as 2004, and had conducted secret testing at its Michigan factory to determine the extent of the problem. Employees told the New York Times that they had salvaged airbags from scrapyards and performed testing to check for defects after reports of injuries. Of the 50 airbags tested, two had cracked during tests, indicating that the airbag inflators were apt to rupture.
Takata denied that it had kept reports of problems from the NHTSA, and stated that the story confused multiple events occurring at different times and for different purposes. The parts manufacturer also claimed that it did not learn about potential defects in its airbags until the middle of 2005.
Takata’s claims are contradicted by Honda Motor Corp., who said that it advised Takata and the NHTSA of problems with the airbags after it received an incident report of a ruptured airbag injuring an Alabama driver in 2004.
Confidential Settlements Hide Information
At least 14 million vehicles have been recalled worldwide from 11 different automakers on account of the defect in Takata’s airbags. According to the latest reports, the problem with the airbag stems from the propellant which inflates the bags.
The propellant is made from ammonium nitrate, which ignites and generates nitrogen gas which inflates the airbag. In humid climates, moist air combined with a manufacturing defect can degrade the propellant, causing it to combust with too much force, shattering the bags metal housing and shooting pieces of shrapnel into the interior of the vehicle.
Over the past few years, Takata has settled at least five lawsuits based on this defect. The settlements came quickly after lawsuits were filed, and never went to trial. While these quick settlements are often beneficial for the person who filed the lawsuit, the confidential nature of the settlements also means that information which may help other plaintiffs remains secret.
The confidential settlements are a main reason that so little is known about the defects and Takata’s response to the problem. In most product liability cases, the documents produced during the discovery phase of a lawsuit can shed light on a company’s actions (or lack thereof). As a result, damaging information can be revealed which may help other injured parties recover. In addition, secretive settlements also prevent plaintiffs attorneys from comparing notes, and may mean that those who file lawsuits settle for less than their case is actually worth.
Governments Call for Action
The NHTSA and members of the U.S. Senate are calling for a nationwide recall of all vehicles with Takata airbags. So far, the recall has been limited to areas of the country with high humidity. Takata has promised to expand the recall if its internal investigation deems it appropriate, but has not done so yet.
Overseas, the Japanese government is also putting pressure on Takata to conduct a thorough internal review. Japan is also considering expanding the recall of Takata airbags within its own country.
In the United States, the Senate held a hearing on Nov. 20, 2014 and questioned high-ranking Takata officials about the company’s response to the defects and its delay in reporting problems to appropriate government entities. The Senate has ordered Takata to respond to 24 questions about the recall by Dec. 12, 2014, and will be considering taking additional action.
Lawsuits are being filed around the country as injured people finally have an explanation for the reason their airbag failed to protect them from harm. If you or your loved one was injured by an airbag, you too may be able to file a claim for compensation against the company responsible. The Silver Spring personal injury attorneys at Goldberg Finnegan are reviewing airbag defect claims, and will be able to advise you of your rights after an injury.