The Takata airbag defect, a problem where the airbags deploy with too much force, appears to be the defect without end. At first, circa 2004, the problem was dismissed by the company as a mere “anomaly.” By late 2007, when Honda detected thousands of ruptures in Takata airbags, the automaker believed there was an issue and issued a recall affecting about 4,000 vehicles. A 2009 NHTSA inquiry seemed to put the issue to bed finding that the nature of the ruptures was “isolated” and closed the inquiry. And the problem remained, largely, under the radar for the next several years while a greater number of vehicles using on the roadways using ammonium nitrate propellants continued to increase. During this period Honda expanded airbag recalls several times.
However, the problem was not seriously re-examined again until, at earliest 2013, when other automakers including Nissan, Toyota, Mazda, and BMW issued airbag recalls of Takata produced airbags. In September 2013, Devin Xu became the first victim of a fatal injury caused by a Takata airbag. The coroner’s report indicated, “…apparent facial trauma due to foreign object inside air bag.”
In 2014, NHTSA re-opened a probe into the airbag defect. While the defect was first linked to high-humidity conditions it was later expanded nationwide. Now, the tenth death has been reported; the first in a non-Honda vehicle. Furthermore, regulators are again warning that the problem may continue to expand as vehicles age.
The Tenth Takata Death Occurred in a Ford Ranger in Late December 2015
Recently, federal consumer safety regulators announced that the tenth worldwide death attributable to an airbag deploying with too much force occurred in late December. The death occurred in South Carolina and involved a man from Georgia. The man was apparently involved in a crash where the airbag in his 2006 Ford Ranger pickup inflated. As in other fatal airbag accidents, the airbag deployed with excessive force causing the metal housing surrounding the inflator to explode and spray shrapnel at the driver. The majority of deaths due to the airbag defect have occurred in the United States with this being the ninth death, out of the 10 reported worldwide, to occur in the country. The only other known Takata airbag fatality to occur outside the United States occurred in Malaysia.
Regulators, Again, Expand Takata Airbag Recall
While announcing the 10th known death to occur due to the airbag defect, regulators also informed the public that the recall was, once again, being expanded. To the already 19 million recalled vehicles, the new recalls adds about 5 million cars and trucks brining the recall total to approximately 24 million vehicles. Furthermore, the new recalls expands the scope of the Takata airbag recall to two auto manufacturers previously not believed to be affected: Volkswagen and Mercedes-Benz. The addition of these automakers so late in the process is troubling since it is now not clear as to whether the full extent of problem has been fully disclosed to the public. The expanded recall also affects additional vehicles manufactured by Audi, BMW, FCA (Daimler) Ford, Honda, Mazda, and Saab.
However a number of other disturbing facts were revealed in the recent announcement by federal safety regulators. First, the fact that a number of unrepaired vehicles remain on the roads is disturbing. The statistic provided by regulators is that only 27.3 percent of recalled driver-side airbags and 25.8 percent of passenger-side airbags have been replaced is troubling. The simple fact of the matter is that despite finally identifying that the problem is widespread, roughly three-quarters of vehicles already identified are still defective and able to cause fatal injury or death upon airbag deployment. Furthermore, while regulators have yet to pin down the exact nature of the problem or process that is causing the airbags to deploy with too much force they believe that time and exposure to humidity play a role in a phase-change. Thus Gordon Trowbridge, spokesman of NHTSA, stated that tens of millions of more vehicles could be impacted. He expanded on this point positing that “Many millions of these vehicles are relatively new and given what we know about the role of age in degrading the ammonium nitrate propellant, are unlikely to present a rupture risk for some years.” However, the fact remains that at some point it is highly likely that these airbags will pose a safety risk. Due to our limited understanding of the problem and the uneven rate of aging of these vehicles, we may not know exactly when these airbags become dangerous.
Injured by a Defective Vehicle or Takata Airbag? Contact a Personal Injury Lawyer Today
If you have been injured by a defective airbag or a defective car or truck, the personal injury lawyers of The Reiff Law Firm may be able to fight for you. To schedule a free and confidential personal injury consultation call us at (215) 246-9000 or contact us online.