Defective Airbag Manufacturer Knew and Concealed Risks

November 7, 2014 | By R. Brendan Dummigan of Pickett Dummigan LLP

defective airbag manufacturerThe New York Times reported today that Japanese airbag manufacturer, Takata knew as far back as 2004 that its airbags were defective. According to former employees, Takata tested dozens of airbags it salvaged from junkyards after it learned that the steel inflator in one of its manufactured airbags exploded and ruptured the airbag injuring an Alabama driver with metal shrapnel. The tests were conducted discreetly after hours and on weekends during the summer in the company’s U.S. headquarters in Michigan.

Internal company documents show that engineers knew airbags could rupture because steel inflaters in two airbags cracked during testing. Engineers considered possible fixes, but company executives dismissed the results as an anomaly, shutdown the testing, and ordered technicians to dispose of the airbag inflaters and delete the test data.

Takata did not disclose any airbag testing in regulatory filings until 2008, when it also found defects in airbag testing that resulted in the first recall due to risks of airbags rupturing and injuring drivers. The company has a 20% market share on airbags supplied to vehicle manufacturers and millions of vehicles from various manufacturers have been subsequently recalled worldwide because of the significant risks.

As early as 2002, the company suggested to federal regulators that it had resolved any prior quality control and manufacturing issues because airbag propellants were being properly handled in its Moses Lake, Washington plant. However, Takata had airbag propellant equipment issues at one of its plants in Mexico in 2009 and a host of other issues related to quality control at its distribution center in Texas due to a spike in demand for airbags in the early to mid-2000s.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has reopened a prior investigation into the company. Some of the issues the company have faced are improper inspection of dropped airbag units, airbags mishandled and being delivered wet or damaged, airbag propellant manufacturing defects, and cracked or exploding airbag inflaters. The problem was compounded by automakers “just-in-time” production processes which required delivery of airbags as needed and fines on parts suppliers for loss of production, creating intense pressure on Takata to keep up with delivery schedules.

The attorneys at Pickett Dummigan LLP have extensive experience representing clients involved in motor vehicle accidents and product liability claims. If you have been hurt by a defective airbag, you may have a legal claim against the vehicle manufacturer. Contact our law offices at (866) 628-3294 for a free consultation.

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