Last month, automakers Toyota, BMW, Subaru, and Mazda agreed to pay a total of $553 million to current and former owners and lessees of 15.8 million vehicles that were fitted with airbags manufactured by Takata, the Japanese automotive parts company. The plaintiffs’ class-action lawsuit alleged that Takata airbags are prone to rupture, and have been linked to at least 11 deaths and over 100 injuries in the United States.
The cause of the ruptured airbags is alleged to be their inflation mechanism, which uses a compound called ammonium nitrate that fills the bags in a powerful controlled explosion. When ammonium nitrate is exposed to air or moisture over long periods of time, however, it can become unstable and explode more violently than it is intended, making the airbags particularly dangerous to consumers living in the Southeastern United States and Hawaii.
The defect has prompted the United States’s largest automobile recall ever, affecting almost 70 million airbags in 42 million vehicles.
The settlement comes at a difficult time for Takata. In February of 2017, the company pleaded guilty to charges of wire fraud for providing false data, and federal prosecutors also confirmed that they had charged three Takata executives with fabricating test data. Up until the plaintiffs’ class action lawsuit was filed, large automakers in the United States have insisted that they were unaware of the problems with Takata’s airbags and that the airbag manufacturer was solely to blame for the plaintiffs’ injuries. However, the plaintiffs argued that the automakers were much more involved in handling the defect, and may have even been engaged in a coverup.
Filings by the plaintiffs show that that in 1999 and 2000, Honda was intimately involved in developing the inflation devices at issue. During testing of these inflators at Honda’s facilities, at least two inflators erupted. However, Honda chose to continue with the dangerous configuration over Takata’s objections due to its relative “inexpensiveness.” Takata was later found to have manipulated and destroyed the testing data related to these inflators.
The plaintiffs claim that Ford, Honda, Nissan, Toyota, BMW, Subaru, and Mazda were also aware of the problems with the airbags before any recalls were issued.
Although the deal must still be approved by a federal judge, the settlement will cost Toyota $278.5 million, BMW $131 million, Mazda $75.8 million, and Subaru $68.3 million. Among the benefits for current and former owners of the affected vehicles include:
- Payments of up to $500
- A free rental car to use while awaiting repairs
- Reimbursement of reasonable expenses, including transportation, towing, lost wages, and childcare costs accumulated as a result of the recall
Although the airbag recall affects 70 million vehicles, only about 15.8 million vehicles are covered by this settlement.
Contact an Atlanta Products Liability Attorney
If you have been injured by a defective product, you may be able to seek compensation from the manufacturer. Contact the attorneys at Slappey & Sadd for a free consultation to discuss your case by calling 404.255.6677. We serve the entire state of Georgia, including the following locations: Columbus, Fort Benning, and Covington.