Three class-action lawsuits allege several automakers, including General Motors, Fiat Chrysler, Volkswagen, and Mercedes, knew of the dangers associated with defective Takata-brand airbags years before issuing recalls.
According to CNBC, the class-actions were filed Wednesday in the federal court of Miami. The lawsuits cite company documents obtained through previous Takata-related lawsuits. According to the plaintiffs, these documents show that automakers were informed of the airbag defects during tests but declined to take necessary action until years later.
Allegations against GM are among the most serious as documents show GM expressing concerns about the inflators as early as 2003. In communications with Takata, GM expressed concerns about the “ballistic variability” of the Takata airbag inflators, citing a tendency for the inflators to underinflate or explode on impact.
2004 communications referenced a tendency for inflators to shoot flames when they ruptured, and 2008 cited “molten propellant.” In a response, a Takata employee admitted “we cannot get good results” with the model of inflators used in GM vehicles.
GM did not issue its first Takata-related recall until mid-2014, four years after Takata reported three exploding airbag inflators.
The allegations against GM are similar to those made during their ignition switch recall. That defect has since been linked to more than 100 deaths, was the subject of a congressional investigation, and resulted in General Motors establishing a victims’ compensation fund.
In the allegations against Volkswagen, plaintiffs contend that the automaker observed repeated quality issues with Takata airbags, going so far as to reject them after an audit. Still, no recall was issued until 2016. Daimler AG, maker of Mercedes-Benz vehicles, also expressed concerns in 2003 and discontinued use of the airbags in 2004 – but again, not recalls until 2016.
The Takata recalls deal with some 125 million vehicles worldwide that are equipped with faulty airbags that can explode on deployment, unleashing metal shrapnel into vehicle cabins. At least 42 million of the affected vehicles were sold in the United States.
So far, 22 deaths and hundreds of injuries have been linked to the faulty airbag inflators, most of which have occurred in the U.S.
The defect led Takata to file for bankruptcy protection in June, allowing it to sell its non-airbag inflator business to Key Safety Sytems, a unit of China’s Ningo Joyson Electric Corp.
Earlier this month, U.S. Senators called for a congressional hearing dealing with the defective airbags and resulting recalls.
According to Senator Jerry Moran, the hearing would review the “current manufacturer recall completion rates, the Takata bankruptcy and transition to new ownership under Key Safety Systems, and what all stakeholders including NHTSA are doing to ensure this process continues to move forward.”
To date, less than half of affected vehicles have been repaired.
Last month, ford issued a “stop driving” warning to 35,000 Ford ranger and Mazda B-Series owners.
f you or a loved one have been injured by a defective and dangerous Takata airbag, call Thomas J. Henry today. Our attorneys are available 24/7, nights and weekends to evaluate your claim and provide you with a free legal consultation. Our firm has offices in Corpus Christi, San Antonio, Austin, and Houston, serving clients across Texas and nationwide.