Takata Airbag Recall Expanded To 34M Vehicles Under Consent Order

Under intense pressure from U.S. regulators, Japan’s Takata Corp. is doubling the number of recalled of vehicles in the U.S. that may feature defective airbags, which could over-inflate and explode, potentially causing severe and often life-threatening injury for drivers or passengers. The recall means that nearly 34 million cars in the U.S. are now affected.¬†

The Takata airbag recall expansion was announced on Tuesday by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and is reportedly the largest recall in history.

In addition, the NHTSA has set up a new recall spotlight website to better inform vehicle owners of the status of the recall and how to determine if they might be affected.

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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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The decision came after months of pressure from U.S. regulators on Takata, which argued that it did not need to recall all of the vehicles and that it was the job of auto manufacturers to do so.

Takata is a parts supplier whose airbags are installed in vehicles sold by at least 10 different major car companies. It is unclear whether the Takata recall overlaps with airbag recalls already announced by other companies.

Takata finally acquiesced after the NHTSA issued a Consent Order (PDF), which requires the company to be cooperative with the agency in all future actions involving the current recall investigation. The NHTSA also announced that it is attempting to take legal oversight of the recall in order to organize and prioritize the replacement of the defective airbags.

At issue are Takata airbags that have inflators that can cause the devices to overinflate and rupture, firing out potentially deadly shrapnel into the vehicle’s passenger compartment. Emergency workers who have seen the devastating effects of the airbag explosions have at times mistaken the wounds for shotgun blasts and stabbing attacks.

At least six deaths worldwide, with five in the U.S., and dozens of injuries have been linked to the airbag explosions. Honda has been hardest hit, with all of the deaths occurring in its cars. The company has also had the most vehicles recalled.

“Today is a major step forward for public safety,” U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx said in the press release. “The Department of Transportation is taking the proactive steps necessary to ensure that defective inflators are replaced with safe ones as quickly as possible, and that the highest risks are addressed first. We will not stop our work until every air bag is replaced.”

Slow Rate of Repairs Raised Concerns

The decision to legally oversee the recall came amid growing concerns about the slow rate of replacement parts being made for the airbags that had already been recalled. By the end of February, only 2 million vehicles equipped with Takata airbags had been repaired.

One of the major problems was simply the capacity of Takata factories to manufacture the replacement parts. However, NHTSA officials have said in recent weeks they were considering extraordinary measures to speed up the process.

Now, the NHTSA is saying that it is pursuing a legal takeover of the repair process, and will prioritize the repairs by risk. That means that vehicles in areas of high humidity are likely to be repaired first, since that seems to be a major factor in the overinflation incidents.

“From the very beginning, our goal has been simple: a safe air bag in every vehicle,” NHTSA Administrator Mark Rosekind said. “The steps we’re taking today represent significant progress toward that goal. We all know that there is more work to do, for NHTSA, for the auto makers, for parts suppliers, and for consumers. But we are determined to get to our goal as rapidly as possible.”

Takata Airbag Inflator Lawsuits

A growing number of product liability lawsuits over injuries or deaths caused by Takata airbag inflators are being filed nationwide, all involving similar allegations that design defects caused the airbags to overinflate and explode.

On February 5, the U.S. Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation ordered all Takata airbag lawsuits filed in federal courts nationwide to be consolidated under one judge for pretrial proceedings as part of a Takata airbag MDL.

Complaints filed throughout the federal court system will be transferred to U.S. District Judge Federico Moreno 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.

The decision initially only affects at least five class action lawsuits filed in three different federal districts. However, more than 67 other pending actions have been identified in about 20 different districts, which will also be transferred into the Takata airbag MDL, since they raise common allegations of fact and law.

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