Honda and U.S. auto safety regulators on Friday confirmed an eighth death caused by exploding airbags made by Japanese supplier Takata Corp.
Jewel Brangman, 26, died from injuries she received when the Takata airbag in a 2001 Honda Civic rental car she was driving crashed in the Los Angeles area last September. The fatal wounds included a laceration to her neck and a severe brain injury. Ms. Brangman’s death was the first fatality tied to a defective Takata airbag in California.
Ms. Brangman’s death is the seventh to occur in the U.S. and the eighth death worldwide, counting a July 2014 death of woman in Malaysia. Although Takata’s airbags have also been installed in vehicles made by BMW, Chrysler, Daimler Trucks, Ford, General Motors, Mazda, Mitsubishi, Nissan, Subaru, and Toyota, all of the known deaths have occurred in Honda vehicles.
A lawsuit filed in Los Angeles Superior Court by Ms. Brangman’s family earlier this year asserts that Takata and Honda knew about the airbag defect for years and should have acted more quickly to correct the problem.
Engineers believe Takata’s airbag problems stem from the chemically driven inflator mechanisms, which can be corrupted by air moisture, making them hypersensitive and prone to deploy with excessive force. The airbags can deploy so forcefully that they cause the metal canisters containing them to explode, blasting metal shrapnel at vehicle occupants.
A possible second Takata airbag death in California remains under investigation.
Takata denied the airbag defect existed for years but finally recalled 34 million vehicles earlier this year, making it the largest automotive recall ever and the largest-ever recall of a consumer product.
The auto industry has been racked by record recalls largely because the same parts are often installed across several models and use components from the same suppliers, such as Takata. According the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), there were 803 auto recalls in 2014 encompassing 64 million vehicles – double the number of recalled cars in 2004, the previous record.