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Even after recalling millions of airbags that may over-inflate and rupture, which have been linked to reports of serious injuries and deaths, Takata Corp. indicates that it has no interest in establishing a victim’s compensation fund to settle claims before a lengthy litigation process.
The Japanese parts supplier rejected a proposal by U.S. Senator Richard Blumenthal, a Democrat from Connecticut, to form an airbag injury settlement fund similar to what was established by General Motors last year, to address injuries and deaths linked to defective ignition switches on certain Chevy, Saturn and Pontiac vehicles.
The Senator received a letter from Takata (PDF) on July 7, rejecting his request for a settlement fund for victims of the company’s defective airbags. Senator Blumenthal announced Takata’s decision in a July 10 press release.
“At the present time, given the limited number of claims filed and the MDL procedures in place that permit the efficient coordination of related claims, Takata believes that a national compensation fund is not currently required,” the company stated in its letter. “In any event, we intend to give your suggestion further study, and we will let you know if our thinking on the subject changes.”
Nearly 40 million vehicles in the U.S. and more worldwide have been affected by Takata airbag recalls, due to a risk that the airbags may explode and send deadly shrapnel flying into the passenger compartment of the vehicle.
“I am astonished and deeply disappointed by Takata’s refusal to establish a victim’s compensation fund — even after 100 injuries and eight deaths attributed to its defective airbags, numbers almost certain to rise,” Blumenthal responded. “Takata is apparently unwilling to acknowledge its responsibility for these tragic deaths and injuries, or do justice for victims and their loved ones. I will press Takata to reconsider this callous misjudgment, and do right by the innocent victims of its harm.”
In recent weeks Toyota, Honda and Chrysler have each announced more recalls for vehicles that were equipped with the Takata airbags, and Nissan recently reported that a recalled airbag caused a vehicle fire in Japan.
Legislators have expressed concerns not only over the scope of the problem, but Takata’s reluctance to cooperate and the pace at which replacement airbags are being manufactured.
The U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) encourages owners to schedule their repair appointments promptly upon receipt of any recall notice, but is urging owners to act fast with any vehicle impacted by rupturing Takata inflators due to the severe safety risks associated.
In the wake of the massive recalls, concerns have emerged about the slow rate of repairs and replacements for the airbags. The number of vehicles affected have overloaded Takata’s ability to manufacture replacement parts, with some experts suggesting that it will take years to manufacture enough replacement parts. In addition, some have raised concerns that the repaired airbags may not actually solve the problem, since the cause of the ruptures is still under investigation.
Takata Airbag Inflator Lawsuits
A growing number of Takata airbag lawsuits are being filed nationwide on behalf of individuals who suffered severe injuries from an exploding airbag. All involve similar allegations that design defects caused the airbags to overinflate and rupture.
On February 5, the U.S. Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation ordered all airbag lawsuits against Takata 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.
Given the lack of a Takata airbag settlement fund to attempt to resolve claims early in the process, injured individuals and families of those killed may face years of litigation before compensation is obtained.