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New internal Takata emails suggest widespread manipulation of airbag testing data

Posted on Tuesday, January 5th, 2016   

According to a recent article in the New York Times, internal Takata emails that were recently unsealed as a part of a personal injury lawsuit against the Japanese airbag manufacturer suggest that data from airbag testing may have been “misrepresented and manipulated.” So far, more than 20 million vehicles equipped with defective Takata airbags have been recalled and, unless the company can prove that the ammonium nitrate they use as a propellant in many of their airbags is safe, these numbers could increase.

The newly unsealed emails contain communications between Takata employees specifically regarding inflater testing in airbags that made use of the ammonium nitrate propellant. One email from a Takata airbag engineer contained the text “Happy Manipulating!!!” in addition to the results of airbag testing. Other emails include comments about changing the appearance of lines and colors in a graphic of testing results in an attempt to “dress it up” and “divert attention” from the results themselves.

In response to this new information, Takata has argued that these comments do not indicate data manipulation, but rather, are specifically regarding the formatting of data, and that they are not related to the airbags included in the current recall.


NHTSA Official Revises Takata Airbag Estimate

Posted on Thursday, September 3rd, 2015   

Earlier this summer, the administrator of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), Mark R. Rosekind, announced that around 30 million cars would need to be recalled to replace an estimated 34 million Takata airbags. According to a report by The New York Times, that number has been revised down to around 19.2 million vehicles and 23.4 million defective airbag inflators by another official with the NHTSA who spoke on the condition of anonymity.

Though this new estimate eliminates more than 10 million vehicles—some cars and trucks were reportedly double-counted in the earlier estimate that also included vehicles outside of the United States—there is still considerable work that will need to be done. As of now, only around 4.4 million Takata airbag inflators have been replaced and an estimated 19 million more still need to be replaced.

Rosekind told reporters that the NHTSA would be outlining new steps in the agency’s recall process in a public meeting sometime this fall. For the time being, we know that the agency is concerned with the rate of recall and that it will be directing specific attention to vehicles in the southern parts of the U.S. There is no official timetable for the completion of the recall.


Honda announces more Civic and Accord recalls

Posted on Wednesday, June 17th, 2015   

On Monday, the Honda Motor Company announced a recall of all 2001 to 2005 Civic sedans and 2003 to 2007 Accord sedans, amounting to 1.39 million vehicles. This latest recall addresses faulty front passenger-side airbags produced by the Takata Corporation of Japan, but Honda has already recalled their Civic and Accord sedans for front driver-side airbags. As a result of the previous recalls, this newest announcement does not affect the total number of Honda vehicles recalled, which remains at 6.3 million.

Previously, a regional recall was issued for front passenger-side airbags in these vehicles that were driven in high-humidity states. In their Monday announcement, Honda officials widen the recall to include all of these sedans in the United States.

It has been reported and observed that some Takata airbags open with excessive force, which sends shrapnel out into the vehicle, injuring passengers. Takata officials, as well as United States safety officials, have named extended exposure to humidity as a major factor in the defective airbag deployment.

Six deaths in the United States have occurred in vehicles equipped with Takata airbags. A New York Times article reported that Honda had corrected the issue in 1.99 million vehicles as of last week by replacing inflators; however, the total number of faulty inflators was not available. Honda dealerships have been replacing 50,000 inflators per week, and representatives anticipate an increase in this rate as the recall notice reaches more and more Honda drivers.


Expanded Takata recalls in the U.S. and Japan

Posted on Monday, November 24th, 2014   

Regulatory agencies in the U.S. and Japan are ordering an expanded recall following mounting concerns over defective Takata airbags, The New York Times recently reported.

Previously isolated to high-humidity areas like Florida and Puerto Rico, Takata is now being ordered to expand their recall to include the rest of the United States in the midst of The Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee hearing investigating the impact of the design flaw. This decision was partially influenced by reports of injuries in North Carolina and California—outside of the previously designated region. Senators in the committee concluded that “the danger presented by Takata airbags is not limited to any one part of the country.” Millions of vehicles spanning a large number of makes and models are named in the recall; an updated and detailed list has yet to be released.

Recalls of affected vehicles have also been issued in Japan, and authorities are considering whether or not to broaden the scope of this recall. Regulators there have demanded an investigation from Takata directly. This is a departure from normal protocol in which the transportation ministry generally addresses the automaker about concerns instead of the supplier. However, an official from the agency says this type of action is taken in “serious instances” when “speedy answers” are needed.


Unstable Compound Identified in Takata Air Bags

Posted on Thursday, November 20th, 2014   

Experts suspect ammonium nitrate is the likely cause for Takata’s massive air bag failures, resulting in at least five deaths and over one hundred injuries, The New York Times reported on November 19.

Reports of air bags exploding on impact, spraying shrapnel throughout the cabin, began pouring in from across the nation, especially in high humidity areas. Takata and safety officials have not been able to definitively identify the cause of the problem. However, some are now pointing to the ammonium nitrate included in its inflators as the source of the malfunction. Takata switched the chemical compound used in its inflators from the stable, but expensive, tetrazole to ammonium nitrate in the mid-1990s. Experts in explosives engineering explain that ammonium nitrate can become unstable in fluctuating temperature conditions; the cycling temperature changes from day to night over time can be enough to trigger this effect in some areas of the nation.

Though critics note that ammonium nitrate is significantly less expensive than tetrazole, Takata maintains that the switch occurred because the compound “produced gas more efficiently with fewer emissions.”

Currently, Takata refutes the link between ammonium nitrate and the air bag defects; they have developed a “newly updated propellant” they are using in replacement air bags for the 14 million vehicles named in their recall, according to Reuters, but ammonium nitrate is still included in the updated formula, The New York Times claims.


Takata ordered to release documents related to defective airbags

Posted on Wednesday, November 5th, 2014   

Last week, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) reissued an inquiry to Takata regarding their defective airbag inflaters, demanding a response by December 1st,. Takata, an airbag supplier, has been under scrutiny for the past decade due to rupturing airbags. 14 million cars have been recalled due to these faulty airbags. So far, these airbags have been blamed for three deaths and over 30 injuries, as they can rupture upon release and shoot metal shrapnel at drivers and passengers. Takata has been aware of this problem since as early as 2004, but it wasn’t until 2008 that Honda recalled around 4,200 vehicles because of the defective Takata airbags.

To prevent further scrutiny about the handling of these prolonged recalls, the NHTSA has ordered Takata to produce records documenting the production, testing, and subsequent concerns raised by automakers over the airbags. They’ve also ordered Takata to answer questions under oath regarding the airbag inflaters. David J. Friedman, the NHTSA’s deputy administrator, hopes “Takata and the manufacturers [act] quickly to increase production of replacement airbags and testing of returned airbags.”

If you have suffered injuries from these defective airbags or another automotive defect, an experienced lawyer with Pohl & Berk, LLP, can help you pursue legal action against those responsible. Our Tennessee personal injury lawyers have years of experience seeking compensation for individuals who have suffered injuries and other losses from defective auto parts, and by calling (615) 277-2765, we can put this experience and understanding to work for you.


Takata Airbag Inflator Ruptures Continue, Despite Recalls

Posted on Friday, October 17th, 2014   

Metal Shard from Takata AirbagIn late June 2014, a Honda Accord owner from the Santa Monica, California reported to NHTSA a May 31 low-speed fender-bender that deployed the airbag bag, “sending hot metal and plastic shrapnel into the cabin. As a result of this minor accident my daughter sustained severe burns, bruises and abrasions on her arms and legs. Honda admits that the airbag was not designed with this in mind but refuses to take any responsibility other than to present me with a bill for $3700.00,” the Honda owner wrote.

At the time, the 2005 Accord hadn’t ever been recalled for an airbag inflator rupture – although some 6 million Honda vehicles had in nine campaigns going back to 2008. Honda was well-versed in the problem afflicting airbags supplied by Takata, having settled its first claim in 2004. The defect – airbag inflators that deploy in low-speed impacts with excessive force, causing the bag to explode sending metal and plastic fragments flying into the occupant compartment – has been tied to at least two deaths and 139 injuries. Specifically, Honda’s defect notices have referenced “separation of the metal airbag inflator shelf, resulting in metal fragments of the shell being propelled through the airbag fabric. The defective bags also have been installed in vehicles manufactured by Toyota, Nissan, Ford, Chrysler, General Motors, Mazda, Subaru, Mitsubishi and Isuzu – all of which have announced recalls covering 14 million vehicles.

Despite receiving its first claim ten years ago, Honda took no action until 2008, with a recall limited to fewer than 4,000 2001 Civic and Accord vehicles. Since then, Honda has launched a series of rolling recalls in 2009, 2010, 2011, 2013 and 2014. And, Takata has offered various explanations for the inflator ruptures:

  • Excessive internal pressure caused by the handling of the propellant during airbag inflator module assembly.
  • A manufacturing process that occurred before assembling the inflators – the process of pressing the propellant into wafers, traced to one particular high-precision compression machine.
  • Problems with a manufacturing process used to prepare the propellant that may have been out of specification.
  • Propellant produced in 2001-2002 could be out of specification without the plant knowing it.
  • Exposure to moisture.

That Santa Monica Honda owner got a cold reception – even as the automaker was less than three weeks away from recalling all 2001-2007 Honda Accords in Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, and eight high-humidity states due to moisture exposure, but not California:

Honda Takata airbag inflator rupture“My first two calls to American Honda were very frustrating and yielded no results,” the owner explained to NHTSA. “After I explained the damages and the explosive nature of the airbag deployment, both of the reps I spoke to brushed me off and told me that I should let my insurance handle it and if they had any questions they could contact American Honda. Their response was indifferent, bordering on rude.”

Honda was more responsive to NHTSA. Ten days after the agency received the complaint, Honda added California to the list of states in which owners were eligible for a repair. Besides Honda, six manufacturers are participating in the regional recall: Chrysler, Ford, Nissan, BMW, Mazda and Toyota.

But, it’s likely that this defect has more death and injury victims. The Center for Auto Safety has accused Honda of failing to report some legal claims – including one of the known deaths, an Oklahoma teenager in 2009 – to NHTSA, as it is required to do under the Transportation Recall Enhancement Accountability and Documentation Act. In response, Honda has hired a third-party auditor to investigate.

And it’s likely that complaints will continue to be lodged, because the root cause or causes have never been definitively identified. In addition, some owners of affected vehicles have complained that they did not receive an airbag recall notice, so consumer notification is another unresolved issue.

Finally, this defect may not be just plaguing aged vehicles and may affect vehicle outside of the high-moisture states. In September, the Reisterstown, Maryland driver of a 2010 Honda Civic reported an airbag deployment that resulted in the release of metal fragments. The 2010 Civic only had 56,011 miles on it when the September 13 incident occurred:

While driving at low speeds, the driver side air bag and ceiling air bag deployed unexpectedly. The contact suffered an injury to the face and the driver seat was fractured in half by a metal fragment. The vehicle was not diagnosed or repaired. The manufacturer stated that the vehicle was not included in NHTSA campaign number…

This recent complaint suggests that all of the affected vehicles have not been recalled.

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