Ford Motor Co. started installing the first airbags in certain vehicles as far back as 1971 but it wasn’t until 1998 that U.S. regulators made airbags mandatory safety equipment in all new vehicles. The intention was simple: to save lives and mitigate injuries in traffic accidents.
Airbags that are defectively designed, however, can cause the devices to malfunction. If an airbag fails to perform as it should in a crash, anyone harmed by the failure could have a valid personal-injury or wrongful-death claim.
What are airbag defects?
While intended to help prevent injuries in an accident, airbag defects may actually cause severe injuries. Obviously, if an airbag fails to deploy, there may be an airbag claim. However, there may be other types of airbag claims.
What are some examples of airbag defects?
Airbags that fail to deploy in a crash leave motorists without life-saving protection. Non-deployment can be caused by a mechanical problem, such as the failure of the airbag sensors to detect a crash or properly transmit a signal to the airbag module after a crash was detected.
In some cases, the airbag’s sensors successfully detect and transmit a deploy signal yet the airbag module itself fails to deploy. Such malfunctions usually stem from poor quality control or defective design.
Some of the same problems that cause airbag nondeployment can also cause late deployment. Even if an airbag is late deploying by hundredths of a second, the results to the vehicle’s occupants can be catastrophic. Late deployment may have the same effects as non-deployment, or it could violently thrust the head and neck backward.
Defective airbags can also deploy with excessive force, causing severe trauma to the head and neck of front seat passengers.
Aggressive airbags that deploy at excessive speeds can cause head or neck injuries or other broken bones. Children are especially susceptible to injuries and or death caused by an airbag. They should always been seated upright and as far away from an airbag as possible.
Late deploying airbags can fail to protect an occupant from contact with the interior of the vehicle, thus causing injuries that could have been avoided.
Airbags with a low deployment threshold can deploy at inopportune times in low speed impacts. These are often collisions that would have been injury free, if not for the airbag impacting the occupant.
There may be an airbag case if any of these factors apply:
- The airbag deployed in a collision which was slower than 10 miles an hour;
- The airbag failed to deploy and there is obvious damage to the front bumper;
- The airbag deployed late;
- The occupant is severely injured in spite of, or because of the airbag deployment.
Takata Airbags – Warning
Airbags made by Japanese automotive supplier Takata Corporation are prone to explode with lethal force, sometimes even in fender benders and other minor accidents in which airbag deployment is unwarranted.
In October 2014, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) issued an urgent warning to 7.8 million drivers about the potential dangers posed by Takata airbags, which can explode with excessive force and kill or seriously injure the front seat occupants of affected vehicles. Tokyo-based Takata is one of the world’s largest automotive suppliers in the world, manufacturing airbag systems, safety belts, steering wheels, and numerous other parts, all of which are used in vehicles made by various automakers.
The problem with Takata airbags stems from the company’s use of ammonium nitrate as the chemical propellant in the airbag’s inflator. Whereas other automotive suppliers avoided using ammonium nitrate in their airbag inflators due to the chemical’s highly volatile nature, Takata relied on it as a cost-effective way to produce airbags for more than a dozen automakers despite knowing its risks.
Ammonium nitrate becomes compromised by heat and humidity, and this triggers a chemical reaction that causes Takata’s airbags to explode, blowing apart the metal canister and blasting it like shrapnel toward the vehicle’s occupants.
As of March 2018, Takata’s defective airbags have been linked to at least 23 deaths and hundreds of injuries. On June 1, 2018, Honda confirmed that a faulty Takata airbag killed another person in Malaysia, bringing the number of Malaysians killed by exploding Takata airbags to seven. All of the remaining cases except for one in Australia have occurred in the U.S., and all but two of the deadly Takata airbag malfunctions have occurred in Honda vehicles. The two deaths not involving Honda vehicles occurred in Ford pickup trucks.
Record Takata Airbag Recalls
Since its founding as a textile manufacturer in 1933, Takata has grown to become one of the largest auto suppliers in the world. The company first entered the automotive market in the 1950s when it began making fabric seatbelts for automobiles. The company eventually diversified to include child safety restraints, steering wheel assemblies, and other auto parts. The company’s success is due largely to its competitive airbag production. In the 2000s and 2010s, Takata’s built an impressive portfolio of airbag customers that included 19 automakers.
Problems with Takata airbags started to emerge in May 2004, when a driver’s side airbag ruptured in a 2001 Honda Accord in Alabama. It wasn’t until Nov. 2008, however, that Honda initiated the first Takata airbag recall, starting with 4,000 model-year 2001 Accords and Civics.
In 2009, two deadly Takata airbag explosions occurred in the U.S., one in Oklahoma and one in Virginia. Those fatalities, both of which occurred in Honda vehicles, prompted Honda to expand its Takata airbag recalls in 2010 and 2011.
In April 2013, three additional Japanese automakers – Mazda, Nissan, and Toyota – joined Honda in recalling vehicles to repair Takata-made airbags. The four Japanese automakers began recalling 3.4 million vehicles globally. In May 2013, BMW joined the Japanese automakers in recalling vehicles due to Takata airbag problems.
In 2014, the true size and scope of Takata’s airbag crisis started coming into focus. The four Japanese automakers expanded the recall to include another 5.22 million vehicles, bringing the total number of recalled vehicles to more than 10 million.
Since then, the Takata airbag recall has grown to affect about 37 million vehicles made by 19 auto manufacturers. Roughly 50-70 million airbag inflators are included in the Takata recalls, which have grown to become the largest and most complex vehicle safety recall in U.S. history.
Takata “Alpha” Airbags Are the Deadliest
The oldest of the recalled Takata airbags, which the industry refers to as “Alphas,” pose a 50 percent risk of a deadly malfunction, prompting U.S. regulators to warn motorists to immediately stop driving the affected vehicles.
The vehicles with Alpha airbags at high risk of explosion include certain 2001-2003 Honda and Acura vehicles:
- 2001-2002 Honda Civic
- 2001-2002 Honda Accord
- 2002-2003 Acura TL
- 2002 Honda CR-V
- 2002 Honda Odyssey
- 2003 Acura CL
- 2003 Honda Pilot
In February 2018, NHTSA’s “do not drive list” of vehicles containing the deadliest Takata airbags expanded to include thousands of model-year 2006 Ford Ranger pickup trucks and 2006 Mazda B Series pickups.
Car owners can check the NHTSA website at www.SaferCar.gov for their automobile VIN periodically to see if they are affected by the Takata air bag defect. Manufacturers will continue to add VINs to the database. Once owner recall notices are available, owners can retrieve a copy from SaferCar.gov, or will receive one by U.S. mail and are advised to carefully follow the enclosed instructions.
Takata Airbag Lawsuit
On Feb. 21, 2018, the U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Delaware confirmed the reorganization plan of Takata Corporation’s U.S. unit, TK Holdings, clearing the way for the Takata Airbag Individual Restitution Fund (IRF).
The $975 million Takata fund allocates $125 million to personal injury and wrongful death claimants – past, present, and future victims of Takata’s defective airbags, regardless of the vehicle in which the airbags were installed.
What should I do?
If you feel you have a claim involving a defective airbag of any type, our attorneys would like to talk to you. You may be entitled to compensation. If you or someone you know has been involved in a vehicle accident and suffered serious injuries you feel are related to an airbag that did not operate as it should – either not deploying, or exploding with too much force – contact us today for a free, no-obligation legal consultation.