According to victims, at least four automakers dismissed the dangers of Takata airbags for years, but refused to replace them.
The Takata airbag recall has marked the nation’s largest automotive recall in history, affecting almost 70 million airbags in 42 million vehicles. Now, according to attorneys representing the victims, at least four automakers dismissed the dangers of Takata airbags for years, refusing to replace them. They continued to include the bags in their vehicles to save on costs. So far, the investigation performed by the Justice Department has found that automakers were unaware of the potential hazard, and were duped into purchasing the airbags from the clever manufacturer, which manipulated safety data to hide the defect. The bags have caused at least eleven deaths and over 100 injuries across the nation.
The new class action allegations are specifically focused on Honda, Toyota, Nissan and Ford Motor Company. Honda immediately responded, and denied that it was aware of the defects on Monday. However, internal documents turned over in the course of discovery clearly show that Honda was involved in developing the propellant in Takata airbags between 1999 and 2000. This is the same propellant that is kept in an inflater, a steel container, which can rupture and shoot metal shrapnel into a vehicle’s occupants. The other car makers have declined to comment or have passed the allegations along to their legal departments for a response.
General Motors will likely be a fifth company mentioned in the lawsuit, as there have been rumors the company also dismissed the airbag hazard and remained solely focused on its bottom line as early as last summer. There is some suspicion the plaintiffs are now targeting the auto companies in order to receive a larger payout than if they just remained focused on the airbag manufacturer alone. The amount set aside for the victims efforts against Takata is $125 million. But, they will be able to draw $850 million from the car companies.
Attorney Kevin R. Dean, one of the plaintiffs’ lawyers says this isn’t the case. He is vehemently arguing the automakers were aware of the situation and maintained the status quo anyway, and he is fighting for the Justice Department to shift the focus of its investigation. Judge George Caram Steeh dismissed Dean’s objections against the Takata plea deal in court on Monday, further stating that any action against the car companies should be taken up in civil court. Victims in attendance were shocked by the judge’s decision. Those, such as Randi Johnston, whose vocal cords were severed from the airbags, have sustained substantial, life changing injuries. And, these are the victims lucky enough to survive the impact of the explosive bags. “I really don’t have any words right now,” said Johnston.
Last month, Takata pleaded guilty to wire fraud under the settlement deal. Three executives were also charged with falsifying test data, and the company was tagged with a $1 billion fine. Takata’s Chief Executive Yoichiro Nomura has promised the public that “Takata is fully committed to ensuring such conduct never happens again.” However, the conspiracy only seems to get more complicated. Takata is currently searching for assistance in meeting its financial obligations.