Lawsuit Claims Five Automakers Knew Of Dangerous Takata Airbags, Used Them Anyway

Image courtesy of Samuel M. Livingston

Takata recently agreed to pay $1 billion to close the books on a federal criminal investigation into its shrapnel-shooting airbags linked to 11 deaths, but the auto parts company — and several automakers — must still answer allegations that these airbags were a known problem long before the massive recall.

Today, attorneys representing victims of Takata airbags also accused Ford, Nissan, Honda, BMW, and Toyota of knowing about this defect for years and doing nothing about it.

The Detroit News reports that documents filed Monday in United States District Court for the Southern District of Florida claim that the automakers knew the airbags could rupture violently, injuring occupants, but continued to use the devices in order to save money.

The filings are part of pretrial evidence-gathering related to dozens of lawsuits against Takata and the automakers.

According to the filing, internal documents from Ford, Nissan, and Toyota suggest that despite concerns over the safety of the devices, the cost of vehicle production influenced the decision to keep using Takata’s airbags, which have been found to explode with such force that pieces of metal fly at occupants.

For example, the New York Times reports that Toyota continued to use the auto part maker’s airbags following a 2003 rupture of an airbag in a vehicle that was undergoing lab tests. Despite this and the company’s “large quality concerns” about Takata and its “unacceptable” quality performance, the airbags continued to be used.

Internal documents reportedly show that in 1999 and 2000 Honda was involved in developing the ammonium nitrate used in the airbags. The propellant was eventually named as one of three contributors to the airbag ruptures. 

Ford allegedly decided to use Takata’s inflators despite objections from in-house experts who believed the propellant used in the devices was unstable. The filing also claims that Nissan began toying with the idea of adding a drying agent to the propellant in 2005, the Times reports.

With regard to BMW, the Times reports that the company also knew of the issues.

This isn’t the first time that automakers have been accused of failing to address the Takata defect before the first recall was initiated.

Last month, New Mexico Attorney General Hector Balderas’ office filed a lawsuit alleging that Takata and 15 automakers that equipped vehicles with the automaker’s airbags failed to protect consumers from the dangerous defect that has been linked to 11 deaths.

That suit, which names Honda, Ford, Toyota, BMW, Mazda, Subaru, Mitsubishi, Nissan, FCA, Volkswagen, Audi, Ferrari, General Motors, Jaguar, and Mercedes-Benz as defendants, claims that the carmakers and Takata knew about and misrepresented the dangers posed by the airbags in the late 1990s.

The AG’s office claims that the companies violated the state’s unfair trade practices act by producing airbags that “were unreasonable and positively dangerous.”

To date, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration says 12.4 million total airbag inflators have been repaired or replaced, including 6.7 million driver-side airbags and 5.7 million passenger-side airbags have been fixed.

To find out if a vehicle is affected by the recall owners are urged to enter their individual VIN on NHTSA’s database.

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