Defective Takata Airbags, Your Safety, California Personal Injury Product Liability laws, and You

The New York Times published a disturbing tale of the automotive industry and how once again, corporate profits were placed above public safety. According to the article, the auto industry knew 20 years ago of the safety risks inherent in the Takata airbag. Yet, not only was nothing done about it, facts were concealed to hide the danger of these airbags. The result—at least 14 people have been killed and more than 100 injured by faulty airbag inflaters made by Takata.

According to the Times piece, in the 1990’s, Takata, a Japanese supplier, designed a cheaper automotive airbag which it was pitching to General Motors. General Motors at that time purchased its airbags from a Swedish company, Autoliv. It asked Autoliv to match the price of the competitors product. However, Autoliv did a study of the cheaper Takata airbags and found that it contained a dangerous compound in its inflater.

That compound, ammonium nitrate ,would produce explosive results. When testing the product it would literally destroy the inflater fixture and turn it into shrapnel, according to a former Autoliv chemist.

The dangerous propensities of ammonium nitrate have been known for decades. Some of the worst industrial accidents worldwide have involved this chemical.

Why has there been no change? Why have these products been able to remain in the market place for so long? Much of it is due to the fact that the automotive industry sets its own safety standards through an organization known as the United States Council on Automotive Research. According to the Times, the problem is that no one enforces the specifications.

These airbags have been placed in a wide variety of cars. What can you do to protect yourself against these products. You can of go to the NHTS website to see if your car was subject to a recall because it had a Takata bag.

What can you do if you have been injured by a defective airbag? California product liability law holds manufacturers and suppliers of defective products strictly liable for injuries caused by defective products. Under the law, an airbag would be deemed defective if it meets one of two tests: 1. Does it fail to meet an ordinary consumers expectations as to safety? 2. Do the benefits of the design of the product outweigh the risks inherent in the design? These are essentially the legal tests that California Courts have applied since the 1960’s to find whether a manufacturer of a defective product is liable for injuries or not. A products liability injury lawyer can further advise you on your rights if you have been injured as a result of a defective air bag or other dangerous products.

I wish I could say that this problem with the auto industry was an anomaly. But time after time, we see cases where corporate profits have been place above consumer safety. Most recently, we had the case of Volkswagen intentionally rigging its vehicles so that they passed emissions tests when in fact the cars were failing. The same profit over safety motive has been shown in the old exploding gas tank cases, unstable cars which easily rollover, and many other dangers which the industry knew about but concealed or ignored. It seems like the only message that the industry understands is when a jury finds them responsible for their dangerous products-then safety improvements take place. Sad, but true.

Source: A Cheaper Airbag, and Takata’s Road to a Deadly Crisis, The New York Times, August 26, 2016

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