The special master in the multidistrict litigation (MDL) over Takata air bags has asked a Florida federal judge to compel the deposition of a Honda engineer who appears to know a lot about the defective inflators and his testimony should be very important Special master Ryan K. Stumphauzer recommended that the court grant the drivers’ motion to compel the testimony of Takeru Fukuda, an assistant chief engineer at Honda R&D Co., who is a 25-year veteran of the company and based in Japan.

Reportedly, in his 2013 email, Fukuda called himself “a witness in the dark who knows the truth about Takata’s inflator recall,” and said that if he told something to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), it would cause a “complete reversal” in the automobile industry that adopted Takata’s air bag inflators. In that same email, Fukuda also compared himself to National Security Agency leaker Edward Snowden, indicating that Honda wouldn’t “let [him] go easily.”

Fukuda said that Honda had taken him off of air bag-related work because of his knowledge. The drivers had argued Honda could be compelled to present Fukuda for a deposition, since his job responsibilities show that he is a “managing agent” under the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. The drivers had complained they had to piece together Fukuda’s job responsibilities at Honda from documents produced by Takata and Ford. They said Honda hadn’t produced the Engineer’s file or an organization chart for Honda R&D.

Honda said Fukuda had not consented to being deposed. The automaker also said he is a union member with no decision-making authority and thus not a managing agent. Interestingly however, a spokesman for Honda told Law360 that the company doesn’t oppose Fukuda’s testimony and will work with him to comply with the ruling. In determining whether Fukuda could be deposed as a managing agent, Stumphauzer analyzed a number of factors, such as whether there was anyone else at the company with more authority regarding the information being sought and also Fukuda’s general responsibilities relating to the air bag inflators.

The special master recommended to the court that Honda should be ordered to provide three deposition dates for Fukuda. Hopefully, Fukuda will be deposed and I suspect what he has to say will be helpful to the litigation efforts by our firm and others in cases involving Honda.

The case is In re: Takata Airbag Products Liability Litigation, (case number 1:15-md-02599) in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida.


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