TAKATA AIRBAGS

The exploding airbags manufactured by Takata has been a problem known by the manufacturer since the mid 2000. Honda announced the first U.S. recall for faulty airbags in a nationwide action in 2008. The founder of Takata was the late Juichiro Takada. His family business grew into the world’s largest suppliers of car safety equipment. He was often on factory floors at home and abroad.

According to an article in USA Today – The Journal News reported by Kirk Spitzer on December 7, 2014, more than 16 million cars have been recalled worldwide because of defective air bags made by Takata. Five deaths were linked to defective airbags inflators that can explode with too much force shooting metal and plastic shrapnel at the vehicle occupants. More than 130 people have been injured.

Honda is Takata’s biggest U.S. customer. About 5 million of the 8 million U.S. vehicles being recalled are Honda products. Takata failed to meet a deadline set by U.S. regulators to expand into a nationwide recall rather than the present regional recall by 10 of its automaker customers. The current recalls are limited to regions where high humidity is thought to increase the chances of degradation of the propellant used in the airbag inflators. Honda reported to a House of Representatives subcommittee prompted by Takata’s refusal to expand the regional recall into a National recall. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration said it would continue to pursue the process to force a national recall by Takata. No deaths or injuries have been reported in Japan but a handful of inflator explosions since 2011 have led to a recall of 2.6 million vehicles in the U.S.A.

Investors have spoken as Takata’s share prices have fallen 60% in 2014 and Takata has been forced to set aside $394 million to cover recall costs. Through all the recall discussions, Takata’s third generation Chairman and Chief Executive has remained all but invisible. Shigehisa Takata – 48 spoke at a shareholders meeting in June, 2014 and has not been heard from since. The company’s Chief Financial Officers appeared at Tokyo’s stock exchange in November, 2014 to issue an apology. This is in sharp contrast to G.M.’s CEO Mary Barra who has been front and center during G.M.’s recall of millions of vehicles for faulty ignition switches linked to 36 deaths. She fired 13 people, appeared several times on Capitol Hill and set up an independently administered Victims Compensation Fund. Mr. Takada has avoided Washington.

Takata was founded in 1933 as a textile manufacturer. It is one of three major manufacturers of airbags worldwide and has a global market share of about 20%. The company went public in 2006 and operates 56 plants in 20 countries with more than 46,000 in employees worldwide. The company’s annual revenues in 2013 reached $4.66 billion.

In an article in USA Today – Journal News on October 23, 2014 by James R. Healey states Feds issued dire airbag warnings. Rising concern prompted federal auto safety regulators to boost dramatically to at least 7.78 million vehicles for faulty Takata airbags and states a dire threat exists for front passengers. The NHTSA in a very strong language told owners “with urgency” to get the cars from 10 automakers fixed at once as a matter “essential to personal safety”. Only a handful of additional vehicles were added to existing Takata’s airbag recall in October, 2014, but Toyota and General Motors are taking the added steps of sending overnight letters to owners of cars with the airbag warnings not to have front seat passengers until the repair is made.

The new and dire warning along with existing recalls dated to 2008 apply to older vehicles sold or registered in area with high humidity such as Southern Florida and Puerto Rico. However, consumer reports that it believes “the dangers could be far broader” then just humid locations. When the faulty bags inflate, they can tear loose from their brackets blowing pieces of their housings at vehicle occupants. The propellants in the defective bags were improperly handled during manufacture and the danger is amplified by humidity. Takata supplies airbags to multiple automakers and the defect has triggered recalls by car manufacturers of some 16 million vehicles globally.

In two article published in MSN.com on October 22 and October 23, 2014, the U.S. Government is telling 3 million more car owners to get their airbags repaired immediately. The government auto safety group is now warning 7.8 million car owners that the inflator mechanism in the airbags can rupture, causing metal fragments to fly out when the bags deployed. The original warning in October, 2014 covered 4.7 million vehicles. The article points out car owners might experience some uncertainty in determining if their vehicle is equipped with the dangerous airbags.

The warnings from NHTSA cover models made by BMW, Chrysler, Ford, General Motors, Mazda, Honda, Mitsubishi, Nissan, Subaru and Toyota. In the second article of October 23, 2014 in Autos aol.com by AOL staff stated U.S. Government is telling 3 million more car owners to get their airbags repaired immediately. The original warning covered 4.7 million vehicles and NHTSA added 3 million more car airbag recalls for a total of 7.8 million vehicles.

Even though Takata has refused to expand the recall nationwide, individual auto manufacturers have expanded the Takata airbag recall. The article points out Takata continues to resist pressure from U.S. Safety Regulators who have threatened to sue and fine Takata if it won’t begin a nationwide recall of its faulty airbags on millions of vehicles. The Chrysler Group provided NHTSA added 139,115 vehicles to the recall in December, 2014. Mazda issued a new nationwide recall to 330,000 vehicles to replace faulty Takata driver side airbag in 2004 – 2008 Mazda 6 and RX 8 cars.

Ten automakers who equipped vehicles with Takata airbags plan a coordinated investigation by independent engineers because Takata refused to begin a nationwide recall. The automakers would also be liable to injured occupants have been forced to act on their own. BMW, Honda, Mazda & Toyota recalled some models nationally. Chrysler expanded its recall in December, 2014 to an additional 69,668 vehicles. Their actions affects 208,783 vehicles including 2003-05 Ram pickups as well as 2004-05 Dodge Durango’s, 2005 Chrysler 300’s and 2005 Dodge Magnum bring the total Chrysler vehicles with Takata airbags to 617,573.

In New York, the auto manufacturers can be held liable for its auto defective parts (airbags) under three legal theories; General Negligence, Strict Products Liability and Warranty Law of the Uniform Commercial Code even though the culprit is the airbag manufacturer, Takata. The automakers that manufacture and distribute a vehicle with a faulty part can be held liable to injured occupants under the above legal theories. Their recourse would be to add Takata to these lawsuits.

If you or someone you know has been injured by a faulty airbag, call the law firm of Dominick J. Robustelli & Associates, PLLC at (914) 288-0800.