A defective Takata airbag is being blamed for the death of an Arizona man last June.

Fifty-five-year-old Armando Ortega of Yuma, Arizona, died in a Phoenix hospital June 11, 2018, three days after the airbag in his 2002 Honda Civic exploded and blasted him with metal shrapnel, Honda Motor Co. officials confirmed on March 30.

The Arizona Department of Public Safety said the airbag in Mr. Ortega’s vehicle exploded when his Honda was involved in a crash in Phoenix, according to the Associated Press.

Mr. Ortega’s death is the 16th confirmed death in the U.S. and the 24th worldwide. All the other injuries outside the U.S. linked to Takata airbags have occurred in Malaysia, with the exception of one fatality in Sydney, Australia. All but two Takata airbag-related deaths have occurred in Honda vehicles.

Approximately 300 people have been injured by exploding Takata airbags. Many of those who have survived a Takata airbag explosion have suffered facial injuries and disfigurement, including the loss of eyes and teeth.

The death wasn’t reported to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) until March. NHTSA has been coordinating Takata airbag recalls in the U.S. with the now-defunct Japanese supplier and more than a dozen automakers affected by the defective airbags.

“This is a critical reminder of the serious nature of the Takata airbag recall and serves as an important call to action,” NHTSA said in a statement, according to the AP. The 2002 Civic involved in the fatal Arizona crash has had a recall out for its airbag since December 2014.

The defect in the airbags stems from Takata’s use of ammonium nitrate in the inflator mechanisms that deploy the airbag in a crash. The chemical compound becomes more unstable and hypersensitive as it ages, especially if exposed to hot and humid conditions, and can inflate the airbags with lethal force.

Mr. Ortega’s 2002 Honda Civic was among the vehicles NHTSA put under a strict “do not drive” warning due to the extreme risks Takata airbags in those vehicles posed. According to NHTSA, “Alpha” airbags in Honda, Acura, Ford and Mazda vehicles could have as much as a one-in-two chance of exploding, even in mild fender-benders.

The 2002 Honda Civic has been under recall since 2014, but automakers have had trouble repairing Takata airbag units in all the affected vehicles given the age of many vehicles, changes of ownership, and the sheer scope of the recall, which encompasses

In its year-end report on the recall, NHTSA said that automakers have recalled 50.36 million Takata airbag units in the U.S. to date. Of those vehicles, nearly half remained unrepaired.

Together, the Takata airbag recalls form the largest automotive safety recall in U.S. history. NHTSA plans to recall an additional 10 million airbag units this year and will continue recalling vehicles until the end of 2020. By that time, the airbag recall will cover about 70 million vehicles.

Problems with Takata airbags first came to the public’s attention in 2004, after the driver-side airbag ruptured in a 2001 Honda Accord in Alabama. It wasn’t until November 2008, however, that Honda initiated the first Takata airbag recall, starting with 4,000 model-year 2001 Accords and Civics.

Chris Glover, an attorney in our Atlanta office, is looking at all death or injury claims related to Takata airbags, even if the injuries do not appear to be permanent or life-threatening.

Sources:
Associated Press
NHTSA
The Daily Mail

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