Imagine that you are involved in a rear-end collision on U.S. 19 in Clearwater. Instead of protecting you from injury, your airbag explodes sending red hot shards of metal into your face and upper body. This has been happening to innocent consumers since at least 2001, when a few Isuzus were recalled, and will continue for the foreseeable future. How could this happen? Where was the media? Where were the government regulators (here and around the world)? Where was the legal system? How could we all be let down so badly over these millions of potentially deadly airbags in BMW, Chrysler, Ford, GM, Mazda, Mitsubishi, Nissan, Subaru, Honda, and Toyota automobiles? The answer is “corporate greed and deception” has kept this issue off the public radar.
Takata, the manufacturer of the airbags, has given a number of sometimes contradictory excuses for the problems, but thanks to former employees we now know how this situation came about. The safe explosive previously used in airbags, Tetrazole, was getting expensive. To save money Takata substituted a more unstable and dangerous explosive, Ammonium Nitrate (the same explosive used in the Oklahoma City bombing). Engineers warned against its use because it became unstable on storage which could produce “irregular ballistic consequences”. Takata executives chose profit over safety and began using Ammonium Nitrate.
When people started getting killed and injured by these dangerous products, engineers at Takata bought used airbags from junk yards and tested them. Serious danger was found and the engineers began looking for a recall fix. Takata executives ordered that the testing results be deleted and that all the evidence of the tests be disposed of at once. Further, Takata and the auto makers kept the lid on this consumer fiasco by quickly settling all of the injury claims and forcing the injured people and their lawyers to sign “confidentiality agreements” to prevent information from leaking to the public, government, and the media.
Not until 2014, some 13 years, after the small initial recall did the true scope and severity of the problem come to light. A lawsuit here in Florida came to the attention of Senator Bill Nelson who held congressional hearings questioning Takata, Honda, and Chrysler. Only then did the Media begin reporting and NHTSA began fining Honda for failing to report 1,700 death and injury claims and for failing to cooperate. After Honda paid its fine, Takata admitted it had sold 33,000,000 potentially deadly airbags.
Today there are Millions of cars still on the road with these potentially deadly airbags. Waiting lines for replacements are long and to add insult to injury some replacement airbags have the same deadly explosive as the recalled ones.
As a personal injury lawyer in Pinellas County for over 30 years, I consider myself a consumer advocate. I am embarrassed that our entire consumer protection system has failed so badly here. Please contact a lawyer immediately should you have airbags injuries.
William C. Ourand, whose article in the Florida Justice Association Magazine of July, 2015 furnished up to date information on this issue.