Takata Air Bag Recalls: Who Is At Fault?

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In the United States, automobile manufacturers will have the “ultimate responsibility” for the costs of replacing the recalled and potentially fatal Takata Corporation airbags. That’s what the nation’s top auto safety regulator announced early in November. Mark Rosekind, the administrator of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), also told reporters in Detroit that not enough is being done to find more than 300,000 older vehicles, mostly Hondas, with Takata airbags that pose a risk of explosion.

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In response to Rosekind’s statements, Honda said that it continues to seek ways to reach the owners of older Hondas and persuade them to have the Takata airbags replaced. Honda told Reuters that representatives of the automaker are even conducting home visits to the owners of Hondas manufactured from 2001 through 2003 – the models that, according to the NHTSA, are at the highest risk for exploding.

In central Florida, many will remember that when Orlando paramedics found Hien Tran in her 2001 Honda Accord in 2014, at first they thought someone had slashed her throat, and authorities actually launched a homicide investigation. As the 51-year-old woman was driving home from work, her airbag, made by Takata, exploded. Instead of protecting her, Ms. Tran’s airbag sent deadly metallic shrapnel flying into the passenger compartment, according to the Orange County Sheriff’s Office. A week after her death, a notification from Honda arrived in the mail, advising Ms. Tran to have the airbag replaced because it might explode.

The most recent fatality, the sixteenth confirmed Takata airbag-related death and the eleventh in the United States, occurred in October when a 50-year-old Riverside, California woman died from the injuries she sustained after the recalled airbag in her 2001 Honda Civic exploded. The Civic was one of the more than 300,000 Honda/Acura vehicles manufactured from 2001 through 2003 with defective Takata airbags.

HOW MANY PEOPLE HAVE BEEN INJURED BY THE TAKATA AIRBAGS?

In total, more than 140 airbag-related injuries and 38 airbag explosions have been reported. Despite Takata’s safety record – millions of vehicles were recalled in the 1990s with defective Takata seatbelts – auto manufacturers have continued to rely on Takata for airbags, seatbelts, and a number of other safety-related auto parts. Now, however, more than twelve million vehicles manufactured by eleven different automakers – all with Takata airbags – have been recalled worldwide. By 2019, the NHTSA plans on recalling 70 million faulty Takata airbags. But as of October, only about 11.4 million of the recalled airbags have been taken off the street.

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In June, the NHTSA urged owners with recalled Takata airbags to stop driving their vehicles now due to the “grave danger” posed by the airbags. Anyone who is injured in central Florida by an airbag explosion or by any other defective vehicle part should seek the counsel of an experienced Orlando product liability lawyer. A good product liability lawyer can investigate the incident, provide candid legal advice, and help a victim file a product liability lawsuit. In Florida, victims injured by defective consumer products are entitled to recover compensation for their medical bills and for their other injury-related expenses.

IS TAKATA BEING PENALIZED?

In 2015, the NHTSA imposed the largest civil penalty in the agency’s history on the Takata Corporation – $200 million for violations of the Motor Vehicle Safety Act. However, only about a third of the fine – $70 million – was “payable in cash.” The remaining $130 million will only be collected if Takata fails to satisfy its agreement with the NHTSA or if more problems are discovered.

When he announced the $200 million penalty, U.S. Secretary of Transportation Anthony Foxx said, “For years, Takata has built and sold defective products, refused to acknowledge the defect, and failed to provide full information to NHTSA, its customers, or the public. The result of that delay and denial has harmed scores of consumers and caused the largest, most complex safety recall in history.”

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The Takata Corporation is now seeking a buyer, and observers are predicting that the company might seek bankruptcy protection as part of a legal deal. However, Rosekind said he believes that the NHTSA has “several layers of protection” to ensure that the recalls of up to 70 million possibly defective Takata airbags are completed according to the recall agreement between the NHTSA and Takata. “We have had a significant number of meetings with Honda,” Rosekind said.

HOW CAN YOU KNOW IF YOUR VEHICLE IS RECALLED?

The list of recalled makes and models with Takata airbags is lengthy, and it includes U.S., Japanese, and European automakers. If you have not received a recall notice, you can look up your vehicle at the NHTSA website or contact your auto dealership. Act immediately if your vehicle is recalled for any reason; it means that you and your passengers are in genuine danger. Take the vehicle to a dealer as quickly as possible after a recall for a replacement or a repair. Except for your time, there is no cost to the vehicle’s owner. And actually, it is not a bad idea to have your vehicle towed to the dealership, because if it has been recalled, it is not safe to drive.

If you are injured by an airbag or by any malfunctioning or defective vehicle part, the law in Florida entitles you to complete compensation for all of your current and future medical care, your lost income, and all other injury-related expenses. However, being “entitled” does not mean that compensation is simply handed to you. You will have to prove that you were injured, that a vehicle part was defective, and that the defect directly caused the injury.

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If you become the victim of a catastrophic injury – a brain or spinal cord injury, burn injuries, or an amputation – you will need the maximum possible compensation for years of treatment and care, and you will need experienced legal help to get it. A good Orlando product liability lawyer can offer you that help. When a vehicle or a vehicle part is defective, but a recall has not yet been announced, you and your loved ones can be in danger. Always keep your vehicle completely and routinely maintained by a certified mechanic. And stay abreast of product recalls; current vehicle and vehicle part recalls are listed at the NHTSA website.

Thien-Vu Hogan
Thien-Vu Hogan
Attorney Thien-Vu Hogan is the founding and managing partner of Hogan & Hogan.