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Defective airbags and catastrophic injury and death lawsuit

Those that have been injured or damaged by defective airbags in vehicles have legal recourse against the car manufacturers under a product liability theory. Product liability law allows for recovery in under several potential theories. They are negligence, tortious misrepresentation, strict liability and warranty. Under the strict liability rule, anyone in the “stream of commerce,” regardless of whether they are the actual manufacturer, may be held liable for a defective product. This liability is automatic when it is shown that the product was defective notwithstanding any efforts that the liable party may or may not have made to detect or prevent the defect.

Takata airbag lawsuits

Airbags in certain models of Japanese cars that were sold starting in 2002 have been shown to be defective. Takata is the major manufacturer of airbags that were used in the production of these cars. The airbag’s inflator is the key component in the deployment of the airbag. In these models, the inflator ignited with such force that it injured occupants of the vehicles. This was caused by a defect in the manufacturing of the airbag. Takata manufactured the airbags using an ammonium nitrate-based propellant without also using a chemical drying agent. The effects of moisture and temperature degraded the propellant such that when the airbag deployed, it did so with violent force that it caused sometimes catastrophic injuries. Sometimes, the airbag deployed without any impact whatsoever, causing accidents and other injuries. This deployment was accompanied by the expulsion of various shrapnel and metals with explosive force that gravely injured vehicle occupants. This defect occurred in tens of millions of airbags, sparking a massive and complex product recall. Before the issue was addressed, the defective airbags caused at least 23 deaths internationally, 15 of which were in the United States. Further compounding the problem, Takata officials manipulated test data results to hide the defects and lied to regulators. The evidence shows that Takata not only knew about this issue, but took steps to hide it as well.

Airbag class action lawsuit

Since auto manufacturers are also in the “stream of commerce,” they have been subjected to large class action lawsuits seeking recovery for injuries and damages. Multiple suits have been filed in various jurisdictions. The first major suit was filed in 2014 and was filed as a multi-state class action. The suit alleged that it was not subject to any sort of statute of limitations because Takata engaged in a practice of fraudulently concealing the defect. Thus, it would not have been possible to discover the existence and the extent of the defects before the statute of limitations tolled. According to the complaint, the Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act was violated by Takata’s actions and the manufacturers’ selling of these vehicles. This statute provides a federal law cause of action when either a written or implied warranty is violated. Here, customers should have expected that the vehicle that they purchased should have worked for its intended purpose. In addition, the complaint alleged fraud as well as numerous violations of various state consumer protection laws.

horrific injuries when airbag inflator explodes

Another major suit was filed a few months later. Patricia Mincey, the plaintiff, was a Florida woman who sustained horrific injuries when her airbag inflator exploding during the course of a minor vehicular accident. This lawsuit took a slightly different approach to seeking relief for the defective airbags. According to the complaint, Mincey’s estate followed a traditional products liability approach in alleging strict liability on the part of both Takata and the manufacturers. The complaint alleged that Takata failed to use due care in their manufacture and design of the airbags and failed to incorporate reasonable safety standards. In addition, the complaint charged that the defendants acted negligently and fraudulently to conceal the defects in the airbags.

Takata Bankruptcy

For Takata, this entire saga has resulted in the corporation’s bankruptcy. This makes potential claimants creditors of the corporation. However, it also means that the only “deep pockets” that may compensate damaged customers are now the auto manufacturers. Takata will be creating a trust fund out of its remaining assets to compensate its customers. After the bankruptcy proceedings, Takata will no longer be operating as a going concern. In addition to bankruptcy and litigation, Takata also faced enforcement actions brought by 44 state attorneys general alleging deceptive trade practice. Takata settled all of these charges.

Takata lawsuit settlement

Many of these cases have recently settled. In the Mincey case, Takata settled right before the time when its president would have been deposed. In addition, some of the large class actions against the automobile manufacturers have settled. For example, BMW, Mazda, Subaru and Toyota have agreed to pay a combined total of $553 million to settle the claims brought against them. Car owners have received settlement notices, alerting them of the fact that they can receive a settlement payment. Automakers had been seeking payment from Takata to compensate them for their liabilities to car purchasers. However, as part of a settlement, they have dropped their claims against Takata and agreed to compensate car owners.

Defective airbags

According to the NTHSA, the defective airbags are still an ongoing issue. Automakers cannot recall vehicles fast enough in order to repair the defective airbags. For millions of drivers, the defect remains in the car until the airbags are replaced. This subjects many drivers to ongoing danger for the time being. This is the largest product recall in United States history which is compounded by the complexity of the issue. This matter has drawn the attention of the NTHSA and the United States Congress as speed is of the utmost important in executing this recall given the fact that owners are driving these cars with a ticking time bomb. Since these conditions tend to be aggravated by heat and humidity, those in southern states are particularly vulnerable. In the meantime, automakers will remain liable for any injuries or damages sustained by vehicle occupants until their airbags can be replaced.

Sources:

Consumer Reports: https://www.consumerreports.org/car-recalls-defects/takata-airbag-recall-everything-you-need-to-know/

https://www.consumerreports.org/car-recalls-defects/takata-airbag-legal-settlement-trust-fund-compensation/

Mincey v. Takata Complaint – https://www.scribd.com/document/254530779/Mincey-Final-Complaint-Against-Takata

Dunn et al v. Takata – https://www.labaton.com/en/cases/upload/Takata-Dunn-v-Takata-Corp-No-14-cv-24009-S-D-Fla-Complaint.pdf

New York Times – https://www.nytimes.com/2016/05/05/business/takata-airbag-defect-recall.html

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