Last week U.S. regulators told one of the world’s largest airbag makers, Takata to stomp on the breaks. The reason? An airbag defect that has cost the lives of eight people, with injuries to more than 100 other individuals.
Takata to Address Airbag Defect
Since 2008, automakers have been forced to recall roughly 19 million cars because of an airbag default in Takata-made airbags that can cause the bag to explode and spray shrapnel during a car accident. Takata allegedly knew about the default, but failed to inform regulators quickly. As a result, Takata and regulators have had to work out a settlement that consigns Takata to stopping production on airbags until they are able to prove they can function safely.
Details of Airbag Defect
Last Tuesday, Honda Motor Company dropped longtime partner, manufacturer Takata as its sole airbag supplier, saying that the company had “misrepresented and manipulated test data.”
But that wasn’t the only rough news for Takata. On the same day the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) announced a $70 million penalty for the airbag maker, for failure to promptly report defects in the company-made airbags. That $70 million could increase by $130 million should the airbag manufacturer not live up to the consent order.
Transportation secretary, Anthony Foxx, also alleged that Takata had manipulated the test data it provided to manufacturers and regulators. In the consent order, the NHTSA alleged that “in several instances, Takata produced testing reports that contained selective, incomplete, or inaccurate data.”
“Delay, misdirection and a refusal to acknowledge the truth allowed a serious problem to become a massive crisis,” said Mr. Foxx. “When we first brought this issue to light, there was a lot of denial on the part of Takata.”
Wrongful Death and Injury
Eight people have been killed, and over 100 other injured as a result of the airbag defect. During a car accident, the metal casing called an inflater, that sits around the airbag can rupture violently, caused shards to fly through the passenger cabin. Over 19 million U.S. cars, and millions more worldwide have been recalled as the result.
Takata Addresses Charges
In a company statement, Takata spokesman, Jared Levy, did not dispute the allegations that the company had manipulated its testing data.
“We do not believe that these issues, which we brought to the attention of N.H.T.S.A., are connected to the current recalls, which extensive testing continues to show are associated with long-term exposure to conditions of high heat and absolute humidity,” said Mr. Levy.
“Indeed, some of the issues relate to development testing done on inflaters for Honda vehicles 15 years ago, which have been subject to recalls for several years,” he went on to say.
Honda has also spoken out about the defect, indicating that Takata “was not forthcoming” during a N.H.T.S.A. investigation into the first recalls that were linked to the defect.
“Honda has also identified other apparent instances of misleading or inaccurate test data that were provided to Honda over time,” said Honda spokesman, Chris Martin. “The Takata airbag inflater test data of which Honda is now aware relates to a variety of testing.”
Mr. Martin also went on to say that Honda had alerted federal regulators to the documents as they had become available. Honda had also ordered that a third-party audit be performed on Takata’s test data so that the issue could be better understood.
During a news conference in Tokyo last Wednesday, Takata’s senior vice president for global quality assurance, Hiroshi Shimizu, denied the allegations that company engineers had manipulated test data.
“There was no problem with our test results. But because there was variation in the data, we did not report everything. We reported only part of the data,” said Mr. Shimizu. He went on to say, “there was no data manipulation.”
Honda has announced it will not be equipping its new Honda and Acura models with the Takata-made airbag inflaters, which comes as a hard blow for Takata - airbags account for roughly 40% of the company’s sales to external customers. Takata will still continue to supply Honda with other safety equipment, including seat belts.
Still, as allegations and more information has come out about the faulty airbags, Takata’s shares have slumped 45 percent.
The issue with the airbag was first reported by Honda more than a decade ago, but that incident was deemed an anomaly, and thus did not require a recall or further involvement from federal safety regulators.
Still, Takata has performed internal tests on its products, yielding increasing concern for regulators and lawmakers who were trying to determine the root cause of the default. And last year, The New York Times reported two of the steel inflaters had cracked during tests. Still, Takata executives discredited the test results, ordering lab technicians to delete the data as well as dispose of the faulty inflaters, according to a first-hand account from a senior member. Meanwhile, Takata continued to deny the accusations.
Trying to Solve the Puzzle
According to The New York Times, in 2010, Takata and Honda turned to Pennsylvania State University’s pyrotechnic lab to try to determine if the propellant in the device, ammonium nitrate, might have caused the problem. But the companies were singing a different tune to regulators, assuring them that the explosions were the result of isolated manufacturing issues. Penn State’s conclusion discredited the claims that the issue might have been the result of the ammonium nitrate. Still, Takata dismissed the study’s results and waited more than two years before sharing their findings with regulators.
Changes for Takata
Moving forward, and as part of the consent order it signed with regulators, Takata will now phase out its use of ammonium nitrate unless it is able to prove that the chemical is safe.
Former engineers from Takata have alleged that they raised concerns about the chemical back int he 1990s, saying that the compound is too unstable for use in a product like an airbag, which needs to be accurate. According to them, their concerns went un-noted.
If Takata is unable to prove the safety of its ammonium nitrate inflaters, it will be required to recall all of its airbags containing the compound.
“There are potentially millions more,” said Mr. Foxx said.
The End of an Era
This consent and subsequent fine marks the end of years of Takata’s attempts to downgrade the issue.
“Takata said it had isolated the problem, it said it had uncovered the mistakes that led to ruptures, and it had pledged its products were safe,” said Mr. Foxx. “But we know that the ruptures have continued.”
Takata Addresses Allegations and Consent Order
In a statement made to address the consent order Shigehisa Takada, Takata’s chairman and chief executive said, “We deeply regret the circumstances that led to this consent order. This settlement is an important step forward for Takata that will enable us to focus on rebuilding the trust of automakers, regulators and the driving public.”
While the company will make steps to move forward and fix the issue, no doubt it feels like “a little, too late” for those family members who have lost loved ones as the result of the issue.
In instances like this, it makes sense to file wrongful death charges. Below is a little more information on how to make these types of claims if you find yourself in a similar situation.
Products Liability Lawsuit
You may be able to file a lawsuit to gain compensation for a lost one, or from your own personal injuries if you have been a victim of a manufacturing default.
Working with a Personal Injury Attorney After an Accident
If you have been a victim in a car accident as the result of a manufacturing default, you should immediately contact a personal injury attorney that understands the specific laws around these types of accidents. They will be able to perform a full investigation and build your case. It’s crucial that you work with someone that knows the intricacies of the laws surrounding these types of cases as well as your specific state’s laws. The attorneys at Personal Injury Attorneys PLLC have experience handling personal injury cases such as car accidents, pedestrian accidents, and bicycle accidents. They will help build a case to ensure you receive everything you need to recover from your specific accident.