Agency Moves to Preserve Automobile Recalled Inflators
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is taking Takata to task for reportedly failing to provide agency-requested information related to an airbag default in vehicles that has been linked to possibly six deaths and hundreds of injuries.
Takata is facing a daily fine of $14,000 for its lack of cooperation in an investigation that involves 17 million airbag recalls among 10 automobile manufacturers. The investigation seeks to pinpoint the cause of the airbag default, in which shards of metal that act as shrapnel fire from the inflatable device when it is deployed.
The fines were instituted in February 2015 and now amount to more than $700,000 and counting. In addition to the fines, the NHTSA has issued a preservation order prohibiting Takata from damaging or destroying airbags.
“This department is focused on protecting the American public from these defective air bags and at getting to the bottom of how they came to be included in millions of vehicles on U.S. roads,” U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx said in a press release titled U.S Transportation Secretary Foxx Announces Order to Preserve Defective Takata Air Bag Inflators for Ongoing Federal Investigation.” “This preservation order will help us get the answers we need to accomplish those goals.”
Takata currently is testing its airbags, under NHTSA oversight, to gauge the scope of the defect. In addition, automakers are forming a testing consortium.
All of this is “too little too late”, since Takata has known about the defects in their air bag system for possibly as long as ten years. And, the risk is even greater in states such as Florida where the high humidity climate increases the chances of over-aggressive combustion. This combustion leads to a buildup of internal pressure within the inflator; one of the factors causing inflator housing rupture and propulsion of metal shards into occupants of the automobile.
“There is a strong public safety interest in ensuring that testing moves forward, and that NHTSA has access to all test data,” NHTSA Administrator Mark Rosekind said in the press release. “We have worked closely with attorneys for private plaintiffs to construct this order so that it protects plaintiffs’ legal rights while also supporting our efforts to protect public safety.”
According to The Detroit News, Takata has provided NHTSA with more than two million pages of documents for the investigation, has been in constant communication with agency representatives and is “fully committed to cooperating with NHTSA in the interests of advancing auto safety for the driving public.”
The NHSTA responded by saying fines will be assessed until the two million pages of documents are explained “fully and substantively.”
Another provision of the preservation order requires Takata to make available 10 percent of recalled airbags for automakers and plaintiffs who request them.
More than 100 private plaintiffs across the country have filed lawsuits, including a man I represent who lost his right eye after the airbag in his Honda Civic exploded, sending fragments of metal into his face and completely taking his eye out. When airbags were developed, they were heralded as an advancement in the automotive industry that would reduce the risk to drivers and passengers in the event of a crash. Takata’s airbags are a far cry from an advancement, and my client is an unfortunate victim of their malfunctioning engineering system.