Takata Airbag Recall Expanded Again Following January Death & NHTSA Fines

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The issue affecting millions of Takata produced airbags has again been expanded. While the recall originally began as one that was limited to high humidity areas, NHTSA began its push to expand to cover the entire United States in November 2014. By the end of 2014, all of the automakers most affected by the Takata airbag defect – Chrysler, BMW, Honda, Ford and Toyota – had expanded their recall campaigns to cover the entire country. However even as automakers cooperated with federal regulators in their efforts to address this dangerous safety problem, it seemed that Takata only became more intransigent. In fact, after failing to produce information requested by NHTSA regarding the defect, Takata was fined by NHTSA $14,000 for each day the company remained in violation of the discovery request.

NHTSA Claims Takata is Being More Forthcoming to its Airbag Investigation

While some have claimed that considering the potential stakes surrounding the Takata airbag recall, the $14,000 a day fine by NHTSA would not be enough to compel cooperation from the company. However it appears that there have been signs of a turnaround in the company’s approach. In fact, NHTSA administrator Mark Rosekind revealed without further explanation that, “My understanding is that yesterday, things started changing around.” We will continue to monitor the situation for developments as Takata, perhaps, begins to cooperate with NHTSA.

Airbag Recall has Been Expanded For Honda Vehicles as the Company Launches New Awareness Campaign

On Thursday, March 19, 2015, Honda added in excess of 100,000 vehicles to its Takata airbag recall. The newly recalled vehicles include more than 10,000 additional 2004 Civics, 5,454 additional 2001 Accords and nearly 90,000 Honda Pilots. While the Accord and Civic models had already been subject to airbag recalls, this announcement marks the first time the Pilot SUV line has been affected.

Due to the low number of vehicle repairs completed, Honda has decided to launch an ad campaign to increase public awareness about both the defect and Honda’s own recall program. The company states that the media campaign will involve all of the major forms of media including in print, through the broadcast media and through social media advertisements.

One of the chief causes of the low repair rate has been that, due to the spike in demand, replacement inflators have become difficult to source and obtain. However it appears that this bottleneck is in the process of being corrected. A spokesman for Honda revealed that the company had contracted with two other airbag inflator suppliers, Autoliv and Daicel, to provide additional parts. He believes that along with the increased production from Takata, the supply for replacement inflators should soon catch-up with consumer demand.

Potential Sixth Defective Airbag Fatality Announced

At the end of January the 6th death potentially linked to the air bag defect was announced. The accident occurred in Harris County, Texas after a driver struck another vehicle with his 2002 Honda Accord while driving in a parking lot. The minor front-end collision caused only relatively minimal damage to the car’s front right bumper, but the vehicle’s airbags did deploy. The airbags deployed in the vehicle and the driver, 35 year-old Carlos Solis, was struck in the neck by a metal fragment. It appears that Mr. Solis passed away due to blood loss from the severe injuries to his neck. There was one other passenger in the vehicle; an eleven year-old cousin of the deceased driver. The passenger was unharmed in the accident.

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If you think that the relatively minor damage sustained by the vehicle is incongruous in comparison to the fatal injuries inflicted, you are not alone. However a spokesperson for the family has confirmed that, “There’s blood all over the inside of the vehicle in a very small impact crash.”

While Honda officials have cautioned that it is too early to conclude definitely that the death was due to the airbag defect, the evidence left at the scene does certainly seem to point in that direction. This would make for the 6th confirmed fatality due to the defect. Estimates have placed the total number of injuries due to the Takata airbag defect as high as 64.

The Vehicle Was Recalled, but the Previous Owners Failed to Seek Repairs

According to a Honda spokesman, the vehicle involved in the deadly accident had been recalled by the company multiple times. The 2002 Accord was first recalled in 2011, but the owner never responded to this initial recall. The car was recalled again during the June 2014 regional recall that sought to repair vehicles in high-risk, high-humidity climates. But, again the vehicle was not brought in for repair. Some may now be ready to conclude that the fault rests with the driver for his apparent lack of diligence in seeking repair, but such a conclusion would not be accurate. The vehicle was not repaired after receiving the 2011 recall notice because the notice had been sent to the previous owner of the vehicle who purportedly never responded to these notices or took the vehicle in for repair before selling it.  Furthermore, the June 2014 recall notice has yet to be sent by Honda to any vehicle owners.

Thus what happened here is likely that Mr. Solis purchased the vehicle used from either the original owner or a used vehicle dealer. When he purchased the vehicle it may have been represented as safe or, as many consumers think, Mr. Solis may have simply assumed that dangerous defects where a recall had been issued would have already been taken care of. In short, Mr. Solis may have trusted the regulatory system to protect him from known dangers, but that trust was misplaced.

This highlights a critical blind spot in the regulatory approach to vehicle safety in the United States. It is illegal to sell a new vehicle with known, unaddressed safety defects for which a federal recall has been issued. Likewise, it is illegal to sell a new vehicle if the vehicle does not meet FMVSS standards. 49 U.S.C § 30112. However the same does not hold true for a used vehicle.

Representatives in Washington are beginning to take notice of this unexpected risk that runs counter to consumer expectations. Florida Senator Bill Nelson updated the Senate on the handling of the Takata recall by informing other members that only 2 million of the 17 million recalled vehicles have been repaired. He said, “People are driving around with a lethal bomb in their steering wheel, and if it’s defective and it goes off, they are filled with shrapnel. That has killed five people; that’s documented. In this country, it’s killed five people. Nobody ought to be driving, therefore, a car for months when, in fact, they have a known defect that can seriously kill them.” Along with Senator Thune, Senator Nelson has also called on Takata to be more forthcoming in the investigation and to provide the materials the investigators and regulators need to do their work.

The attorneys of The Reiff Law Firm are dedicated to providing updates regarding relevant and interesting developments in personal injury and product liability law. If you have suffered a serious injury or if a loved one has been killed due to an auto defect, contact a The Reiff Law Firm Berks County car accident lawyer for a free legal consultation. We can handle every step of the litigation process so that you can focus on recovering from your injuries.

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