A judicial panel has ruled that dozens of lawsuits filed against Takata Corporation and several car manufacturers over faulty, recalled airbags will be heard in Florida federal court. The automakers named in some of the lawsuits include Honda Motor Company, BMW of North America, Ford Motor Company, Nissan North America Inc., Subaru of America, and Toyota Motor Sales USA.
More than 70 proposed class action lawsuits have been filed in the past several months by consumers alleging that Takata airbags are defective and can violently explode and spray metal debris inside the vehicle, putting passengers at risk of injury or death. The lawsuits claim that Takata and the automakers knew of issues with the airbags for years but until recently failed to issue a recall or warn customers and safety regulators. The airbags have been linked to six deaths, all involving Honda automobiles.
Former Takata Engineer Agrees to Testify
A former Takata engineer, Mark Lillie, who criticized Takata for using airbag propellant that could blow up uncontrollably, has agreed to testify before a Congressional committee. According to an interview with Reuters, Lillie told Takata that if the company went forward with its decision to stop using tetrazole, a more expensive synthetic compound in favor of ammonium nitrate, a compound that cost a tenth of the price but was much more volatile, “someone will be killed.”
After Takata executives ignored his warnings and were unwilling to address safety concerns or redesign the parts, Lillie quit the company in 1999. Ammonium nitrate was the principal propellant chemical used in hundreds of millions of Takata inflators manufactured since 2000, including those installed in more than 24 million cars that have been recalled. According to experts, ammonium nitrate is highly sensitive to temperature changes and weather, is known to break down over time, and can combust violently.
Takata’s airbag inflators utilizing ammonium nitrate have been found to explode too forcefully, prompting automakers to recall almost 25 million vehicles worldwide since 2008. Takaka is currently testing about 100 inflators per day and producing 450,000 replacements per month, all of which still use ammonium nitrate. The company announced in February 2015 that it is projecting a $264 million loss for the fiscal period ending in March, even worse than the $214 million previously estimated.