According to three class action lawsuits, General Motors, Fiat Chrysler, Volkswagen, and Mercedes-Benz knew that the Takata airbag inflators used in their cars were susceptible to dangerous explosions years before a National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) recalled them and did nothing about it. The recall was the largest in U.S. history and involved 19 automakers and 69 million airbag inflators in 42 million vehicles.
The suit was filed in Federal Court in Miami on Tuesday, March 13, 2018. Volkswagen was issued a separate class action lawsuit in Federal Court in Virginia on Wednesday, March 14, 2018. Ford is also involved with fighting lawsuits on similar misdeeds.
The suit is based on documents obtained as a result of legal action against other automakers and Takata. Honda settled a similar lawsuit involving Takata airbags in 2017 for $605 million. Toyota, Subaru, Mazda, and BMW settled their lawsuits for a combined $553.6 million and Nissan settled for $98 million.
Plaintiffs assert that General Motors, Fiat Chrysler, Volkswagen, and Mercedes-Benz were informed about inflator defects during tests, but took no action. The most serious of the charges are focused on General Motors. According to documents from Takata, GM showed its concerns about the inflators as early as 2003.
Takata, one of the largest airbag inflator manufacturers in the world and headquartered in Japan, uses ammonium nitrate, a chemical designed to create a small explosion, to inflate the bags. Tests showed that the chemical could weaken if exposed to high temperatures and moisture. The combination causes it to explode with an extreme amount of force that can blow apart a metal canister and throw shrapnel. At least 22 people have been killed worldwide and more than 180 have been hurt due to Takata exploding airbag inflators.
A criminal conviction and fine resulted against Takata, which forced the company into bankruptcy.
The suits are a consolidation of previous individual claims that were filed and alleged that owners paid higher prices for their vehicles than they would have if the defect had been disclosed.
The suits also claim that the car manufacturers selected Takata to provide the inflators because they cost less than other airbags offered by other manufacturers who use different, less volatile chemicals in the process of inflating the bags. The lawsuit asserts that employees of the car manufacturers knew of the quality and performance problems of the inflators long before any vehicles were recalled.
Documents obtained by the attorneys of the plaintiffs show, for example, that in April 2003, communication between Takata and General Motors brought up a concern about “ballistic variability” of the airbags when either underinflated or explode when deployed. In addition, a General Motors engineer showed his concern about inadequate testing, moisture control and the inability of Takata to achieve GM specifications after visiting a Takata factory in Washington State.
In another meeting between GM officials and Takata employees in 2004, it was discussed that the inflators had a tendency to shoot flames when ruptured. In March 2006, Takata reported that inflators tested for GM vehicles continued to show “aggressive behavior,” that included the escape of “molten propellant” when ruptured. In one case, an employee of Takata admitted, “we cannot get good results” from the inflator design.
The lawsuits show that GM did nothing until it recalled 29,000 2013 and 2014 Chevrolet Cruze compact cars in June 2014. Moreover, the company was alerted to problems when it received reports in 2011 and 2014 including a case in which a driver of a Chevrolet Cruze was blinded in one eye when an inflator exploded. Both General Motors and Takata blamed the incident on a manufacturing problem and not on the true cause, the deterioration of the ammonium nitrate in the inflator.
Attorneys of the plaintiffs also claim that General Motors were aware of the problems as far back as 2009, when GM filed for bankruptcy during the Great Recession of 2008 and that the new GM, which emerged from the bankruptcy, still had employees who were aware of the problems.
In addition, Volkswagen had concerns with the Takata airbag inflators dating back to 2003 and rejected products after an audit, according to the lawsuits. Still, Volkswagen did not issue an auto recall until 2016, the attorneys for the plaintiffs claim.
Daimler AG, the parent company of Mercedes-Benz, had also shown concerns involving the integrity of the Takata products as far back as 2003, according to company emails. Mercedes did not issue an airbag recall until 2016.
Fiat Chrysler issued its first auto recall concerning the faulty Takata airbags in 2014 and yet its engineers showed concern of the product as far back as the early 2000s, the lawsuits proclaims.
If you or a loved one have been injured due to an exploding Takata airbag inflator, you may qualify to participate in a class action lawsuit. Our attorneys at the Eichholz Law Firm have experience and knowledge on product liability and class action lawsuits, and are willing to assist you in the pursuit of justice.