Jim Adler | The Tough, Smart Lawyer
By Jim Adler August 18, 2015

The global Takata airbag recall expanded on May 8, 2015, with more than 6.5 million additional vehicles being recalled by Toyota, Honda and Nissan. In all, 17 million vehicles in America and 36 million vehicles worldwide have been recalled by automakers for Takata airbag defects since recalls began in 2008.

Further, Takata itself has finally declared 33.8 million of its airbags currently used U.S. automobiles to be defective, nearly doubling what is becoming the largest auto recall in United States history. For years Takata has denied responsibility for airbag accidents. But after being pressured by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and Department of Transportation, it officially declared its airbags defective on Tuesday, May 19, 2015.

Specifically, these defects involve airbag inflators in metal canisters exploding to send shards of metal, plastic or shrapnel flying through vehicles, injuring or even killing drivers and passengers.

Six Fatalities Linked to Takata Airbags

Among the world’s biggest airbag manufacturers, Japan-based Takata says it initially recognized defects over 10 years ago in terms of the chemical mix, causing the airbags to be inflated with excessive force upon a car’s impact in a traffic accident.

According to U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson of Florida, 105 injuries have been connected to the defect, although this number may actually be even higher. The New York Times, who claims Takata knew about possible defects even earlier than 2005, claims 139 injuries have directly resulted from faulty airbags.

In fact, at least six fatalities have been linked to Takata’s defective airbags, perhaps the most recent involving a Houston resident by the name of Carlos Solis. On Jan. 25, 2015, Solis, 35, was involved in a relatively minor traffic accident in the Houston suburb of Spring, Texas, when his 2002 Honda Accord’s airbag exploded with excessive force upon impact.

Though the crash was minor, Solis suffered severe wounds to his neck from an exploding defective airbag and bled to death. He’d purchased the vehicle from another owner and never received the recall notice.

In reporting on Solis’ death, the New York Times said many used cars have safety defects but have not been repaired, and many new owners are not notified of previous recalls. Federal laws, the Times reports, do not require used-car dealers to repair vehicles with safety defects or to disclose to customers that a vehicle has been recalled.

This puts the burden on used car purchasers to check and see if they’re part of a recall. That can be done by running their VIN through a federal safety database, as with SaferCar.gov, or by contacting its manufacturer.

Toyota, Honda and Nissan Recall Nearly 11.5 Million Vehicles

The latest airbag recalls by automakers include popular models from Toyota, Honda and Nissan. A complete list of Takata airbag recalls by make and model can be found at Edmunds.com.

Toyota reportedly recalled 5 million vehicles across 35 different models from around the world to have the front driver’s side inflators replaced. 637,000 of these Toyota models were sold in the United States and 18,000 were sold in Canada. The U.S. Toyota airbag recalls included 160,000 RAV4 vehicles from model years 2004-2005.

An expanded Toyota recall first issued in April of 2013 involves 177,000 Sequoia SUVs from 2004 and Tundra pickups from 2003-2004. Their front passenger side airbag inflators will be replaced.

According to Bloomberg News, Nissan’s airbag recall includes more than 1.5 million vehicles worldwide, manufactured from 2004-2007. Such recalls were made from all 50 states, expanding an earlier Nissan recall which was targeted only at high-humidity areas.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) says the North American Nissan has recalled 326,000 cars, with 250,967 Nissan Sentra compact cars from 2004-2006 and 12,725 Nissan Pathfinders from model year 2004.

Nissan reports no crashes, injuries or deaths have been attributed to defective airbags in its vehicles. Customers will be alerted in June about the Nissan airbag recall.

As for Honda, Automotive News reports an additional 4.89 million vehicles have been recalled in various parts of the world for airbag defects. However, none of those vehicles were sold in North America.

Honda has recalled the most vehicles for defective airbags of any manufacturer, a total of 19.6 million automobiles, of which 8.2 million were sold in the U.S. According to Honda, it will replace Takata-manufactured driver-side and passenger-side airbag inflators with inflators created by Japan’s Daicel and Sweden’s Autoliv.

Takata has since commissioned German research group Fraunhofer Society to determine the cause of airbag defects. Ten auto manufacturers hired defense and aerospace company Orbital ATK to test possibly defective Takata airbag inflators and determine whether a recall was necessary.

High Humidity Contributes to Defect

Since high humidity is believed to contribute to defective airbags, Gulf Coast states and other areas with high humidity are getting another 300,000 Toyota recalls, in this case for the 2005-2006 Tundra and 2005-2007 Matrix, Corolla, Lexus SC 430 and Sequoia. The affected regions include Texas, Louisiana, Florida, Alabama, Georgia, Mississippi, Hawaii and some American territories.

Research has shown how moisture intrusion into airbag inflators could make airbags “susceptible to abnormal deployment in a crash.” Such moisture intrusion could make airbag inflator propellant lose density, Toyota said, thereby increasing the danger of a rupture.

Toyota will replace driver-side airbag inflators with inflators made by Japan’s Daicel Inc. and will replace passenger-side inflators with replacements made by Takata itself. Some of the choices for replacement parts were made due to speed of delivery.

See If Your Vehicle Has Been Recalled

Consumer Reports advises that if you have a vehicle from the model years listed in recalls, you can use your vehicle identification number (VIN) to inquire at the appropriate dealership to determine if your vehicle has, in fact, been recalled.

If you believe a loved one has been injured by a defective Takata airbag, you may be eligible for compensation by filing a personal injury lawsuit. Jim Adler & Associates can provide legal help for a defective parts lawsuit, starting with a free case review.

Pending investigations into the causes of these defects, Takata says it hasn’t yet set aside funds to cover lawsuit settlements. However, lawsuits are inevitable against Takata, which says it’s returning to profits in the current fiscal year.

Meanwhile, the NHTSA expects to take “significant new steps” soon in terms of hastening additional Takata airbag recalls as necessary.

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