A lawsuit filed against General Motors (GM) by a Georgia woman who was left “permanently and completely blind in her left eye” by an exploding airbag in her car is believed to have triggered GM’s recall of 33,000 Chevrolet Cruze sedans in North America. The airbag at the center of the case was made by Takata Corp., the world’s second-largest supplier of automotive parts. More than 10 million vehicles have been recalled worldwide to fix problems with Takata airbags in the past five years.
The word “exploded” is not an exaggeration in these cases. The airbag does not deploy as designed. Instead, it actually explodes, propelling hundreds of shards of metal fragment – shrapnel – with fierce velocity into the face and body of drivers and passengers.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has launched an investigation into Takata Corp. The NHTSA investigation includes driver and front passenger side airbags. The government’s preliminary investigation lists Honda, Nissan, Mazda, Chrysler Group and Toyota as having the possibly defective bags. In its report to NHTSA last year, Takata included all those, plus BMW and General Motors as automakers that buy its bags for their U.S. vehicles.
On June 11, Toyota re-recalled nearly 800,000 vehicles in the U.S. that were originally recalled for the potential airbag defect in April 2013 after it learned Takata had provided an incomplete list of affected vehicles. Toyota also recalled an additional 2.3 million vehicles worldwide for the airbag flaw. The recall involves certain 2003-2004 Toyota Corolla, Corolla Matrix, and Tundra models, 2002-2004 Sequoias, and 2002-2004 Lexus SC 430 coupes.
Then, on June 23, Honda, Mazda and Nissan all announced recalls of more than 3 million vehicles to fix possibly faulty airbags that could result in the devices not deploying properly.
Honda vehicles included in the latest U.S. recall include the Civic, CR-V, Odyssey, and Element models manufactured between April 2000 and October 2002. Honda says it knows of 41 incidents involving exploding Takata airbags in its vehicles. It has linked the defective airbags to two deaths.
Mazda recalled about 160,000 vehicles worldwide, including about 15,000 in North America. The Mazda recall affects the RX-8 and first-generation Mazda6. Nissan recalled more than 750,000 vehicles worldwide for the faulty airbags, including 228,000 vehicles in North America. Those vehicles include the Infiniti FX35, Pathfinder, and Cube. Neither Mazda nor Nissan report any injuries or deaths linked to the defective airbag.
The lawsuit that likely prompted GM to recall the 2013-2014 year model Chevy Cruze this week was filed in a Georgia federal court by 25-year-old Brandi Owens in April. According to the lawsuit, Ms. Owens was caught in stop-and-go traffic in Forsythe County, Ga., last October when a car bumped her Cruze from behind, causing her to bump the car in front of her. Although the accident didn’t damage Ms. Owens’ car, the airbag deployed “with such force that it detached from the steering wheel and struck (her) in the face, causing her left eye to rupture,” the lawsuit states.
The lawsuit alleges the Takata-made airbags in Owens’ 2013 Chevy Cruze were “defective and dangerous” and exploded with excessive force. The police report noted that officers found the air bag that exploded in Ms. Owens’ car on the backseat.