German airbag manufacturer ZF TRW Automotive Holdings Corp. and several major automakers are facing multiple class actions alleging millions of U.S. vehicles are equipped with defective airbags that may fail to deploy in a crash.
The class actions follow an April 19 announcement by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) of a widened federal investigation of the faulty ZF TRW airbags. Initially the investigation focused on airbags installed in certain Hyundai and Kia vehicles. NHTSA later widened the probe to encompass 12.3 million vehicles made by Fiat Chrysler, Honda, Mitsubishi, and Toyota, in addition to Hyundai and Kia.
According to NHTSA, the ZF TRW airbag failures may be caused by an electronic defect. Investigators suspect electrical interference from nearby wiring could cause the airbags to fail. In the event of a crash, electrical signals between crash sensors and the airbag’s electronic control could overstress and damage the driver and passenger-side airbag units, causing them to not deploy. The defect has been linked to four deaths and six serious injuries.
In a lot of ways, the lawsuits against ZF TRW resemble the claims made against Japanese airbag maker Takata, whose defective airbags triggered the largest auto safety recall in U.S. history.
Plaintiffs’ lawyers argue that ZF TRW and the automaker knew of the defect and the risk of serious injury and death that they pose. They also claim the defendants knew of the defect and tried to conceal it from the public while they continued to promote their products as safe and reliable. The plaintiffs further allege that ZF TRW and the automakers have demonstrated a blatant disregard for public welfare and safety.
Many of the lawyers who filed the class actions against ZF TRW are also litigating cases against Takata and the automakers that used Takata airbags in their vehicles. According to Law.com, one of the lawyers representing ZF TRW plaintiffs filed a motion before the U.S. Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation asking that all the cases be consolidated in federal court in the Southern District of Florida, where U.S. District Judge Federico Moreno oversaw the Takata lawsuits.
William Wallace, a safety policy advocate for Consumer Reports, said that automakers don’t have to wait until NHTSA concludes its investigations, nor should they, considering that many lives could be at risk.
“Like the Takata crisis, the current investigation focuses on safety issues with faulty airbags that still aren’t resolved after several years and problems that stretch across multiple car companies,” Mr. Wallace said, according to Consumer Reports. “This requires an industry-wide solution, not a case-by-case evaluation,” Wallace said. “Any company that delays a recall or fails to promptly report a safety issue should face substantial fines by the government.”