Beasley Allen and several other law firms are representing a class of plaintiffs who allege the ZF TRW airbag and seat belt control units in more than 15 million U.S. vehicles are prone to fail in a crash, leaving motorists unprotected.
According to the sprawling class action lawsuit, the ZF TRW airbag control units (ACUs) are informed by crash sensors in the front of the vehicles. When the sensors detect a collision, they notify the ACU, which commands the system to deploy the airbags and tighten the seat belts.
But millions of ZF TRW ACUs are equipped with a potentially faulty microchip DS84 application-specific integrated circuit (ASIC) made by STMicro, the plaintiffs allege. This STMicro component acts as the “brain of the ZF TRW ACU. It processes the signal from the crash sensors and activates the airbags and seatbelts,” according to the lawsuit.
The alleged flaw in the DS84 ASIC-driven ACUs makes them vulnerable to bursts of electricity and electrical overstress that can overwhelm the circuit in a crash. If this happens, the airbag and seat belts can fail, leaving motorists completely unprotected.
According to the class action, the faulty ZF TRW ACUs have caused at least eight deaths. The lawsuit names as defendants ZF TRW, STMicro, and automakers that equipped their vehicles with the allegedly faulty systems: Kia, Hyundai, Hyundai MOBIS, Fiat Chrysler, Toyota, Honda and Mitsubishi.
The plaintiffs allege that ZF TRW, STMicro, and the automakers knew that the ACUs were defective for at least 10 years but conspired to hide the dangerous flaw.
“Some of the defendants have known for years that a defect existed with the airbags, but failed to inform their customers and the public about the defect and its serious nature,” said Dee Miles, Beasley Allen Principal and head of the firm’s Consumer Fraud Section. “The defect has not been adequately addressed. It has caused deaths, injuries, and put the traveling public at increased risk of danger, not to mention devalued the vehicles.”
The National Highway Traffic Administration (NHTSA) opened an investigation into the ZF TRW units and related airbag failures last year. The ongoing probe encompasses more than 12 million vehicles.
Although Chrysler, Hyundai, and Kia have recalled some vehicles equipped with the defective ACUs, the plaintiffs allege that about 9 million other vehicles were never recalled but should have been.
Earlier this year, U.S. District Judge John Arnold Kronstadt appointed Mr. Miles to the Plaintiffs Steering Committee (PSC) for the multidistrict litigation (MDL) regarding auto supplier ZF TRW Automotive airbags that could fail to deploy. The cases’ origins show noticeable similarities to the earlier cases involving defective Takata airbags, according to Beasley Allen. Some believe the growing complaints indicate a similarly large problem. Beasley Allen attorneys representing plaintiffs in this case also include H. Clay Barnett, III, and Mitch Williams.