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Dolan: Stay informed about airbag deployment dangers

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Senate Commerce Committee member Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla. holds an example of the defective airbag made by Takata of Japan that has been linked to multiple deaths and injuries in cars driven in the U.S. during a November 2014 hearing on Capitol Hill. (J. Scott Applewhite/2014 AP)

This week’s question comes from Randolf G. in the Sunset, who asks:

Q: “I heard there has been a recall of cars with certain airbags because they are exploding and causing injury to people with sharp metal flying out with the airbag. I own a 2005 Ford Ranger. Am I in danger?”

A: Randolf, you may indeed be in danger and should take your car to a dealer to have the airbag checked to see if it is in the lot or batch of defective airbags. Ford is recalling nearly 391,000 of its Ranger pickup trucks because the driver’s side airbag inflators can explode with too much force, causing injury or death.

According to an Associated Press news report, the recall covers trucks between model years 2004 and 2006 in the United States and Canada. This recall also comes just days after the government announced a South Carolina man was killed when a Takata airbag inflator exploded in December.

Several years ago, trial lawyers began seeing a trend of injury in cases where people who were involved in crashes were dying not just from force of impact, but in situations where the airbag deployed and sharp metal was blasted into the face, neck and chest of unsuspecting drivers. It was akin to a grenade in the steering wheel. This is an example of how private investigations conducted by trial lawyers exposed a massive problem, just like with the Toyota sudden acceleration cases. After the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration began collecting more and more reports, it opened a formal investigation on June 11, 2014, (preliminary evaluation, PEI-016) into Takata airbags.

Ten vehicle manufacturers had incorporated Takata’s airbag modules in their vehicles: BMW of North America, Chrysler Group, Ford Motor Company, General Motors, American Honda Motor Co, Mazda North American Operations, Mitsubishi Motors North America, Nissan North America, Subaru of America and Toyota Motors North America. Millions of vehicles are carrying the potential air-grenades in their vehicles.

If you own one of these vehicles and wish to obtain information about your car using its Vehicle Identification Number, visit https://vinrcl.safercar.gov/vin.

In 2004, Takata began a series of safety recalls and replacements. Takata had been collecting ruptured (deployed) airbags for some time.

In 2014, fearing that Takata may destroy evidence, NHTSA ordered the company to preserve any airbags that came into their possession to be evaluated by the NHTSA as well as private attorneys. Following the crashes, Takata had demanded that the airbags be returned to them.

It was only in May 2015 that Takata met its legal obligations to report “defect information reports” (DIR) to NHTSA. In those reports, Takata stated some propellent wafers in some inflators could experience “aggressive combustion” during airbag deployment.

Takata stated this was a problem that was occasioned in areas with high humidity/moisture conditions. They went on to tell NHTSA that “in the event of an inflator rupture, metal fragments could pass through the airbag cushion material, which may result in injury or death to vehicle occupants.”

On Nov. 13, 2015, NHTSA issued a news release stating “NHTSA’s investigation has discovered evidence that Takata violated several provisions of the Motor Carrier Safety Act including requirements that it notify NHTSA within 5 days of when it determined or should have determined the existence of a discovery of a defect.” NHTSA also determined that Takata provided the agency with inaccurate and incomplete evidence of the defects.

In November 2015, Takata admitted the wrongdoing and was fined $200 million. It also agreed not to sell the airbags with these defects. For a complete list of affected vehicles, visit www.safercar.gov/rs/takata/takatalist.html.

This is just another case of corporate greed and deceit, in which a manufacturer hid the truth while people were injured or killed. Trial lawyers root out these problems,
try to help their individual clients and, in doing so, make the world a safer place. If you or a loved one were injured — or death occurred — following a crash in which an airbag deployed, get in touch with a trial lawyer to assist you in investigating whether Takata may be responsible for your losses.

Christopher B. Dolan is owner of the Dolan Law Firm. Email questions to help@dolanlawfirm.com.