Many of you will remember the massive recalls that have been made throughout the automotive industry for a defect in front passenger-seat airbags that can cause shrapnel—often large, twisted, and sharp chunks of metal or plastic—to be propelled at great force into vehicles’ occupants when a front passenger airbag is deployed. The shrapnel comes from the airbags’ inflator canisters, which may explode when the airbags deploy, creating a risk of serious injury or death to anyone in the vehicles.
If one of your own vehicles has been recalled for this dangerous defect, the problem has likely not even been fixed, since most, if not all, of the manufacturers who have issued these recalls have not obtained the parts necessary to remedy the defect in the vehicles they have recalled. The recalls began around the world in 2008 and include more than 14 million vehicles. According to one estimate by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), nearly 8 million vehicles in the United States, alone, may contain airbags with the risk of malfunctioning in this manner.
The recalls began with vehicles purchased or currently registered in high-humidity areas, and the recalls were limited to cover only front passenger-side airbags. The manufacturers claimed that the recalls were limited to vehicles in high-humidity areas, because—they suggested—humidity was the cause of the airbag ruptures. But, when the airbags were discovered to malfunction in low-humidity areas, as well, recalls were slowly expanded to include some of those areas. Still, the recalls were only for the front passenger-side airbags. As these airbags were not expected to deploy without front-seat passengers, owners believed their recalled vehicles were still safe to drive, as long as no one occupied the front passenger seats.
In November 2014, however, NHTSA urged Takata (the Japanese manufacturer of the defective airbags) and the affected auto manufacturers to expand recalls to include front driver-side airbags in addition to front passenger airbags. Takata is reported to have stated that this recall expansion in all 50 states would essentially double the number of U.S. vehicles recalled to approximately 16 million. Though Honda, whose vehicles are reported to constitute a major percentage of those subject to recall, is reported to have begun urging Takata to speed up its production of replacement parts, the parts are not yet available.
Adding to the unavailability of parts needed to repair the already recalled vehicles for passenger-side airbag repair and the now additional parts needed for driver-side repair is the fact that NHTSA cannot require Takata, as an airbag rather than vehicle manufacturer, to institute its own vehicle recalls. Fortunately, two vehicle manufacturers have issued recalls for repair of driver-side as well as passenger-side airbags.
Mazda has issued a recall of 330,000 for driver-side frontal airbags. The Mazda recall covers certain model year 2004-2008 Mazda6; 2006-2007 Mazdaspeed6; and 2004-2008 RX-8 vehicles. The recall began on October 17, 2014, for those vehicles that were originally sold or are currently registered in Florida, Puerto Rico, and Hawaii, and owners of vehicles in other locations will be notified by mid-February 2015.
In addition, Ford issued a recall on December 19, 2014, of nearly 463,000 vehicles for repair of frontal driver-side airbags. The recalled vehicles include certain model year 2005-2008 Ford Mustangs and 2005-2006 Ford GTs. Ford will notify owners of the recall but has not yet provided a notification schedule. This recall is a follow-up to an earlier Ford recall for front driver-side airbags. That recall included the same Mustangs and GTs covered in the current recall in addition to some 2004-2005 Ford Rangers originally sold or ever registered in certain hot and humid locations.
Will the vehicles currently under recall for only passenger-side airbags eventually be recalled for driver-side airbag repair, as well? Only time will provide the answer. But, what if you are injured or a family member is killed from the explosion of either a driver or passenger airbag before your vehicle is repaired—or even recalled?
When someone is injured or killed due to a defect in a product’s design, manufacture, or warnings, the manufacturer and others involved in the product’s production and sale can be held liable for injuries and deaths found to have resulted from the product defect even if none of the defendants was negligent in creating or selling the defective product. This “strict” liability may apply regardless of whether a manufacturer has recalled the defective product and regardless of whether the consumer was aware of the defect at the time the injury-causing accident occurred, as the negligence of plaintiffs and defendants is irrelevant in strict-liability actions. Thus, a product-liability action brought to recover damages for injury or death caused by the rupture of a Takata airbag can result in the liability of Takata, the designer and manufacturer of the vehicle in which the defective airbag was installed, and others involved in the vehicle’s production and distribution.
Defective Airbags Are a Serious Concern
Today’s writer is Jeffrey Killino, a respected litigation attorney and the managing partner of The Killino Firm, P.C. Attorney Killino has extensive experience with all types of personal-injury and wrongful-death cases, including those arising out of vehicle-accident injuries and deaths caused by defects in vehicles, vehicle components, and vehicle safety equipment. He has achieved national recognition for his work in defective-vehicle cases—including a product-liability action that led to the recall of 450,000 defective tires manufactured in China—on major television networks such as CNN, ABC, FOX, and the Discovery Channel.