During a press conference on Tuesday, May 19, 2015, National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA) Administrator Mark Rosekind and U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx announced that Japan-based Takata Corp. has declared an estimated 33.8 million vehicles defective due to airbags that may explode with excessive force and potentially shoot metal shrapnel at passengers.
According to Secretary Foxx, “This is the most complex consumer safety recall in U.S. history” and Administrator Rosekind later added that, as far as NHTSA researchers know, this is the largest U.S. auto recall in history and possibly the largest in all of U.S. consumer product recalls.
Our Role in the Takata Recalls
Since November 2014, Motley Rice attorneys have filed seven separate suits against Takata, Nissan, Honda and others for incidents involving allegations that defective Takata airbags caused life-altering personal injuries and at least three deaths. One of the suits filed—on behalf of Malaysian woman Law Suk Lee and her unborn daughter—is believed to be the first suit against Takata for deaths that took place outside of the United States. Another suit involving injuries sustained in a previously un-recalled 2006 Nissan Sentra was filed shortly before Nissan announced an expansion of its Takata recall to include an additional 45,000 vehicles, including the 2006 Sentra.
Additionally, Motley Rice attorneys have played a key role in the preservation of evidence in the Takata cases. Prior to February 2015, Takata required all airbag inflators removed from recalled vehicles to be shipped back to its Japan facility. In filing a reply in support of an emergency motion for preservation of evidence in late January 2015, we contributed to the preservation of a percentage of airbag inflators for the purpose of independent testing in the United States. Since this reply was filed, NHTSA has established an independent testing facility to ensure that the final replacement airbags for affected vehicles are safe for the life of the vehicles.
Throughout, Motley Rice attorneys have been adamant in pushing for a nationwide expansion of the Takata recall and believe that even this current expansion may not be sufficient. We also remain concerned about the safety of the replacement inflators being used in the current recall.
Vehicles Included in the Takata Airbag Recall
Until this announcement, approximately 17 million vehicles had been recalled in the U.S. and around 36 million globally for potentially defective Takata airbags. These recalls focused mainly on vehicles located in high-humidity areas as the defect was believed to be triggered by moisture causing the device’s propellant casing to degrade.
The recall will impact vehicles manufactured by 11 automakers, including:
Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV
Ford Motor Co.
General Motors Co.
Honda Motor Co.
Mazda Motor Co.
Nissan Motor Co.
Subaru Motors USA
Toyota Motor Corp.
To see if your car is included in the Takata recall, search using your vehicle’s VIN at SaferCar.gov. As vehicles potentially impacted by this recall are still being determined, be sure to check back at this site regularly, or check with your car dealer to learn if a recall has been issued.
Read more about best practices for keeping up-to-date on recalls affecting your vehicles.
Root Cause of Defect Still Being Determined
Despite Takata allegedly knowing about this issue for close to a decade, the company still has to determine the root cause of the defect. According to Rosekind, there are four defect information reports from Takata: one for the driver-side airbag and three for the passenger side. Determining the cause, testing new parts and replacing airbags in every affected vehicle could take some years.
Rosekind also noted that vehicle owners who have had their airbags replaced will need to stay alert for potential recalls on the replacement airbags as the safety of these replacement parts has yet to be determined by NHTSA testing. Rosekind did state that “the final remedy will be safe” and although the replacement parts are safer, whether they will be safe in the long term is still unknown.
“Consumers might have to go back for a second time,” said Rosekind.