Last month I wrote about the spreading scandal relating to potentially lethal airbags installed in millions of vehicles from nearly a dozen carmakers over more than a decade. The airbags have a defect that can cause the steel cylinders used to inflate them to fragment, sending shrapnel into the bodies of the people the bags are meant to protect. Car accidents involving the defective airbags, manufactured by an auto parts supplier named Takata, are believed to have resulted in at least four deaths.
This week, however, the story became even more serious when the New York Times reported that as far back as 2004 “Takata secretly conducted tests on 50 airbags it retrieved from scrapyards, according to two former employees involved in the tests.” The paper goes on to report that when the tests confirmed the defect in the airbags “instead of alerting federal safety regulators to the possible danger, Takata executives discounted the results and ordered the lab technicians to delete the testing data from their computers and dispose of the airbag inflaters in the trash.”
“Today, 11 automakers have recalled more than 14 million vehicles worldwide because of the rupture risks,” the Times notes. In addition to the four fatalities linked to the defective products “complaints received by regulators about various automakers blame Takata airbags for at least 139 injuries, including 37 people who reported airbags that ruptured or spewed metal or chemicals.” The newspaper adds that Takata is the world’s largest airbag company “accounting for about one-fifth of the global market.”
Assuming that the Times’ reporting is correct, it is really hard to imagine a more clear-cut case of corporate irresponsibility. This case potentially touches on a number of legal areas: class actions, wrongful deaths, car accidents and defective products. As a Portland wrongful death attorney whose practice involves all of these areas I am both shocked by the allegations of such wide-ranging irresponsibility on Takata’s part and reminded that this is why our courts are so important. They offer ordinary Americans the opportunity to hold reckless and negligent companies accountable for their actions (and inactions) on a level legal playing field.
The legal fallout from the airbag scandal is likely to take several years to work its way through our court system, and it will be worth following every step of the way.
New York Times: Takata Saw and Hid Risk in Airbags in 2004, Former Workers Say