U.S. JPML to Hear Arguments Over Centralization of Takata Airbag Recall Lawsuits Jan 29.

As a growing number of airbag recall lawsuits continue to be filed against Takata Corp. and various auto makers throughout the federal court system, the U.S. Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation (JPML) is set to hear oral arguments later this month over whether to centralize the cases before one judge for coordinated pretrial proceedings.

A group of plaintiffs filed a motion in November, seeking to establish a federal multidistrict litigation (MDL) for all Takata airbag lawsuits filed as a result of problems with devices used in millions of different vehicles sold throughout the U.S., which may over-inflate and rupture, causing shrapnel and other debris to be shot towards vehicle occupants.

At least 50 different proposed airbag class action lawsuits have been filed in 18 different U.S. District Courts nationwide, seeking economic losses on behalf of owners of vehicles with the defective airbags. In addition, many more product liability and wrongful death lawsuits are expected to be filed in the coming months on behalf of individuals who suffered injuries from exploding airbags in recent years.

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Takata Airbag Lawsuits

Millions of Vehicles Were Recalled in 2014 Due to Exploding Airbags That Caused Injuries and Deaths.

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Since all of the cases raise similar allegations of fact and law, plaintiffs have proposed that the litigation be centralized before U.S. District Judge James King in the Southern District of Florida to reduce duplicative discovery into common issues, avoid conflicting pretrial rulings from different judges and to serve the convenience of the parties, witnesses and the courts.

Takata and many of the auto manufacturers involved in the lawsuits have responses with the U.S. JPML agreeing that consolidation is appropriate, but disagree about the venue where the cases should be consolidated. The defendants have proposed that the cases be transferred to the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania, in Pittsburgh.

According to a hearing order (PDF) issued December 18, the U.S. JPML will hear oral arguments on the motion to establish a Takata airbag recall MDL on January 29, at the Wilkie D. Ferguson, Jr. U.S. Courthouse Ceremonial Courtroom in Miami, Florida.

Takata Airbag Problems

Millions of vehicles sold by at least 10 different manufacturers have been recalled this year due to a risk of problems with Takata airbags, which may over-inflate, rupture and explode, causing potentially deadly debris to be fired into passenger compartment vehicles.

The debate over where the airbag recall lawsuits should be centralized comes as the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) continues to investigate the problems, accusing both Takata and certain auto makers of hiding information about the defects.

Honda recently admitted that it has failed to adequately report a number of injuries and deaths associated with the airbags and other problems with its vehicles. The company could face fines of up to $35 million.

Takata airbags have been linked to a number of overinflation problems in recent years, with exploding airbags fireing shrapnel into the vehicle’s passenger compartment, causing injury and death. At least six deaths have been linked to the defective airbags, with five of those deaths ocurring in the U.S., and four involving Honda vehicles.

Originally, the NHTSA believed the problem with over-inflation from the airbags was confined to regions of high humidity. However, after incidents revealed that airbag overinflation events were happening in other areas as well, the agency called for a nationwide recall of Takata drivers’ side airbags.

A number of automakers have expanded their recalls, but Takata has refused, and says it is the responsibility of auto manufacturers.

Last month, the NHTSA issued special orders to both Honda and Takata, ordering them to turn over all data related to the defective airbags under oath, after determining that they had not been fully forthcoming.

Honda has admitted that it erred in its duty to report deaths and injuries related to its vehicles, including airbags in some cases. And earlier this month, Takata admitted that it originally performed tests on airbags for overinflation more than a decade ago, but thought the incidents were an anomaly.

Not only did the problems appear to be known before the first recalls, but despite the NHTSA investigation spanning only cars made before 2008, recent documents surfaced indicating that Takata executives complained about production problems at the company’s Monclova, Mexico production facility as recently as 2011, and just weeks ago a new Takata airbag recall was announced affecting devices made as recently as this summer.

The NHTSA is also pushing for more testing for passenger side airbags, which still have only shown problems in areas of high humidity.


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