Japanese auto parts manufacturer Takata pleaded guilty Monday to a criminal charge stemming from its faulty air bags. The fraud charge is accompanied by $1 billion in penalties for concealing its defective airbag inflators. The Chicago Tribune reports three company executives have also been indicted on charges relating to falsifying documents, and U.S. prosecutors are seeking their extradition from Japan.
In May 2015, the U.S. Department of Transportation announced the recall on Takata air bags after determining its air bag inflators were prone to instability and were responsible for six deaths worldwide, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). The initial recall of approximately 35 million air bags has since ballooned to nearly 46 million as the extent of the problem was uncovered, making it the largest recall in United States history.
Due to the unstable chemical used in the inflators, an excessive amount of force when the air bags deploy can spew shrapnel onto drivers and passengers. The Tribune estimates more than 180 people have been injured by Takata’s intentional deception about the inflators’ safety risks.
Last year, Beasley Allen settled four cases stemming from Takata air bag injuries for undisclosed amounts, and each case involved a Takata air bag inflator failing to ensure the protection that was promised to consumers.
As an example of how exploding Takata airbags can injure drivers and passengers, Angelina Sujata was driving her 2001 Honda Civic in 2012 at about 25 miles per hour near Columbia, South Carolina, when the vehicle in front of her slammed on the brakes. The next thing she remembered was a sharp pain in her chest, which was sliced open to the bone. In another case, Jennifer Griffin’s air bag exploded in her Honda Civic while driving in Orlando, Florida, and sent a two-inch piece of shrapnel flying. When highway troopers found Griffin with blood gushing from a gash in her neck, they were baffled by the extent of her injuries.
An investigation into the airbag problems has revealed that, through a series of conscious decisions, Takata risked lives for its bottom line. It opted to use ammonium nitrate, a compound that destabilizes over time, particularly if exposed to high temperatures and humidity, to reduce costs despite other air bag manufacturers refusing to use it over safety concerns. Takata then continued to pursue its use despite internal red flags.
“The heart of the problem is greed. You’ve seen companies who have made the choice to cut corners to save money, and as a result we have unsafe products on the roadways,” said Beasley Allen lawyer Chris Glover on a recent episode of The Beasley Allen Report. “There have been more recalls in the last two years than all of history combined. It’s truly maddening and sad. We should be getting safer. We should be getting past these problems. When you look at what Takata did, people should go to jail, and I do not say that lightly.”
Takata has agreed to pay $850 million in restitution to automakers, $125 million for victims and families and a $25 million criminal fine. Currently, the NHTSA estimates only 13 million affected air bags have been repaired, leaving millions of lives still at risk. To see if your vehicle is under the Takata air bag recall, visit safecar.gov.