What Takata's Bankruptcy Means for Defective Airbag Injury Claims
Takata airbag defect is linked to at least 17 deaths worldwide, some 184 injuries in the United States alone, and some 43 million recalled inflators in the U.S. Due to mounting liabilities from the callbacks, the company was forced to seek a buyer, and bankruptcy may facilitate that sale.
What's wrong with Takata airbag inflators?An airbag inflator is a metal cartridge loaded with propellant wafers that, when ignited in a crash, produces a gas to inflate an airbag in a fraction of a second. Takata began making airbag inflators with propellant based on ammonium nitrate, a widely-used chemical explosive, in the late 1990s. Takata prized it for its low cost and abundance. But the chemical is inherently difficult to keep stable over time, which is why other airbag manufacturers didn't use it. According to independent investigations, several years of exposure to hot, humid climates can render the ammonium nitrate propellant unstable and lead to violent combustion. As a result, Takata airbags ignited with too much force, the metal inflator housing shattered and vehicle occupants were shattered with metal shrapnel.
How will Takata's bankruptcy affect the recalls?Recalls will continue. Through at least 2019, in the U.S., millions more Takata inflators will be recalled. The recalls will be rolled out in waves. Some of the early Takata-made replacements should be replaced again because they may have the same defect as the parts they replaced.
How can you find out if your car is under recall?You can log onto www.safercar.gov to search for recalls affecting your car using its 17-digit vehicle identification number, which is located on the driver's side of the dashboard near the windshield. A car dealer will know if replacement parts are available and can schedule an appointment for the repair, which is free of charge.
Can drivers sue?Due to bankruptcy court protections, both new and pending lawsuits against Takata are stalled. But customers can still sue the car companies. Even though Takata makes the defective airbags, automakers are on the hook because it's their responsibility to sell a safe product. However, winning punitive damages may be difficult because the car companies could blame Takata. As part of a plea deal reached in February with U.S. prosecutors in which it agreed to pay $1 billion in penalties, Takata admitted to hiding the fatal risks of its exploding air bags for about 15 years.