In 2004, after a minor low-impact car accident, an airbag exploded shooting jagged metal fragments into the car’s driver. In September, the New York Times uncovered that both Honda and Takata, its Japanese air bag supplier, deemed the incident as an “anomaly” and did not issue a recall or seek the involvement of federal safety regulators.
What was called a singular “anomaly” has now evolved into a nationwide recall of astronomical proportions. Today, defective Takata air bag deployments are being blamed for the deaths of four people.
An Orlando woman, Hien Tran, 51, suffered a fatal neck wound in a low-impact vehicle crash. She never regained consciousness and died after weeks in intensive care.
A Forty-seven year old, seat-belted California man, Devin Xiu, died from head injuries and severe facial trauma. His death was believed to be linked to the mushrooming cloud of shrapnel that was released after he wrecked.
Then there’s Ashley Parham, 18, of Oklahoma City who was driving across a parking lot and hit another car. The low-speed crash deployed her air bag sending metal fragments into her neck, causing her death.
On Christmas Eve, a mail truck pulled out in front of a Virginia woman, Guddi Rathore, who had her three kids in the car and were on their way to grandma’s house. It was just a minor fender bender but the arteries in Rathore’s neck were severed by metal shards and she died instantly.
In addition to the loss of lives there has been a spiraling series of serious injuries reported across the U.S. related to the defect. An investigation revealed that Takata and vehicle manufacturers failed to take decisive action for years in issuing appropriate recalls when there were obvious red flags. After first being alerted to the explosive air bag defect in 2004, Honda, the biggest buyer of Takata airbags, didn’t begin recalls until 2008. With the disturbing news that as many as 14 million vehicles may now be equipped with the defective airbags, 11 more major car makers have signed on to participate in the recall. In a new release this week, the NHTSA is acknowledging that the risk from these air bags “may be greater than previously identified.” Especially, they say, in warm weather climates.
The high humidity level of warm weather states and the moisture that is created within the device is now believed to be a factor in why the propellant canister, which explodes with excessive force upon impact; is rupturing in such a way and sending shards of metal shrapnel outward. Because of the higher incidence of ruptures occurring throughout the lower US, the recalls seem to propose that only owners living in (warm weather states) South Carolina, Georgia, Florida, Mississippi, Louisiana, Texas, California, Hawaii, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands will be able to have their vehicles fixed free of charge. Though Takata believes these explosions are more likely in warmer weather, the idea that car makers would not act to repair everyone’s vehicle in all 50 states is believed to be a disaster waiting to happen.
NHTSA’s Clarence Ditlow explains that the reason for the current state-specific recall is “Money.” Ditlow who heads the center for auto safety says that the position the industry is now in is frustrating but that he cannot understand “how in the world can you approve a geographic recall that doesn’t include the two states that where people have been killed.” Even more menacing is the circumstance where an un-informed vehicle owner visits a warmer state for an extended period of time or moves to a warmer state. Furthermore, what about climate change and unpredictably hot summers in parts of the country that are usually slightly cooler in the summer months.
Takata, the 11 car makers, and the NHTSA are being hammered with these concerns from every angle and trying to figure out how to best handle the situation. Another part of the problem is that the parts to accommodate and repair the vehicles that are included in the recall just aren’t there. The companies are working with the government to put shipments on high priority and dealerships are backlogging the thousands of calls from those who are subject to the recall. Toyota is urging vehicle owners to refrain from using the front passenger seat of recalled vehicles, as the passenger airbag is also a defective model. Some manufacturers are looking at the controversial decision and legal repercussions of allowing owners to deactivate their airbags until they can be fixed and are entertaining the concept of offering loaner vehicles on a case by case basis.
The number of vehicles effected by the recall has grown rapidly just within the last few days. Though the “no charge” recall does not yet include the “colder states,” this does not mean that your recalled vehicle is safe and its air bag will function correctly in the unfortunate event of an impact. Studies are still developing and there are no absolutes, so we urge you take immediate action by visiting the NHTSA to see if your vehicle is included on the recall list. If so contact your dealership for more information on what to do next. You may find additional help at NHTSA Safecar VIN Recall Lookup website. Though it is currently experiencing technical difficulties you can click on your individual vehicle manufacturer from the links provided on its home page to perform a specific recall check with your vehicle’s VIN number. Alternatively, you may also contact the NHTSA Hotline at 1-888-327-4236 for more information.
If you or your loved one has suffered a serious injury because of a vehicle defect or mechanical malfunction contact the experienced product liability and auto accident attorneys at Rocky McElhaney Law Firm. We don’t back down because the opponent is big or the fight is tough. We’ll fight for what you and your family deserve for your injuries. Don’t settle for less. (615) 425-2500