Earlier this month, Honda confirmed that a driver was fatally injured after a defective airbag inflator ruptured in their 2002 Honda Civic this past August. In its statement, the automobile company said that this marks the 17th death in the United States caused by a Takata airbag, 15 of which were in Honda vehicles.

Honda conducted a joint inspection of the vehicle with the National Highway Traffic Safety on the driver’s vehicle. They confirmed that the during the collision, a defective airbag on the passenger side ruptured, igniting a small fire in the vehicle and fatally injuring the driver.

Takata’s History of Defective Products

The NHTSA reports that at least 17 people have died due to Takata’s faulty airbags, with another 250 having been injured. When Takata designed its airbags, it chose to use ammonium nitrate as the propellant chemical in its inflators.  This decision was made despite evidence that ammonium nitrate is inherently unstable especially compared to alternative chemical inflators that could have been used.  It is noteworthy that other airbag manufacturers chose to use a different chemical inflator, one which is more stable and thus less dangerous.

As it turns out, when exposed to heat and humidity for extended periods of time, ammonium-nitrate becomes unstable which can result in what is known as “inconsistent ballistic consequences” when the chemical ignites.  Upon ignition, the ammonium-nitrate in a Takata airbag can thus cause the airbag’s metal inflator housing to rupture forcefully sending pieces of metal or shrapnel inside the vehicle striking its occupants.

Takata’s defective airbag recall has been called the largest and most complex safety recall in history, with over 56 million inflators recalled in roughly 41.6 million vehicles nationwide. Experts state that because the availability of replacement parts is limited, it could take until 2023 to repair all of the vehicles affected by the recall, which would be fifteen years after the initial recall was first issued. The defective airbag recall is so extensive that Takata had to file for bankruptcy in 2017.

The Dangers of a Defective Airbag

When a car experiences an impact, there are sensors in the vehicle which activate depending on the magnitude and direction of the impact forces.  A sensor will then send out an electric pulse to one or more air bag devices, triggering the chemical propellant inside the device to ignite which causes the airbag to deploy. The rapidly inflated airbag is intended to keep the vehicle’s occupants safe and protect them from hitting components such as the steering wheel, dashboard, windshield and windows. After the airbag deploys, it is designed to then deflate to prevent suffocation.

Meant to be a life-saving device, an airbag can cause significant injury to drivers and passengers if it doesn’t work as intended or is otherwise unreasonably dangerous. Perhaps the most egregious airbag defect is that of the major Takata recall— unreasonably dangerous chemical components which cause the metal air bag inflator housing to rupture shooting shards of metal or shrapnel inside the vehicle.

Another major issue with airbags is the failure to perform as designed. Some faulty airbags fail to deploy when a crash impact happens, which can cause the driver or passenger to strike parts of the inside of the vehicle such as the steering wheel, dashboard or windows, and even go through the windshield in a more serious crash.  Other times, a defective airbag deploys too late, deploys when there is no impact, or deploys with excessive force, each of which can cause severe trauma to the head and neck. In other instances, the airbag can over or under-inflate.  Underinflated airbags are not as effective in protecting the occupants of the vehicle, while overinflated airbags can impact a vehicle occupant with such force that leads to traumatic brain injuries, neck injuries, and spinal-cord injuries.

All of these issues can cause serious and fatal injuries to the occupants of the vehicle. Airbag injuries can result in brain damage, permanent blindness, paralysis, herniated discs, and airbag burns, to name a few. Unfortunately, with an unreasonably dangerous or defective airbag, oftentimes the defects are hard to discern until it is too late.  Thus it is important that vehicle owners pay attention to recalls to ensure that their vehicles are not subject to a recall by the manufacturer for defects such as unsafe airbags.

What Should I Do If My Vehicle is Part of the Defective Airbag Recall?

The NHTSA urges vehicle owners to check to see if their cars are affected by the recall. Drivers can search using their Vehicle Identification Number on the NHTSA’s website. If your car is affected by a recall, it is imperative to have it addressed immediately.

If you or a loved one has been hurt in an accident involving a faulty airbag or other auto product defect such as a roof crush, it is important that you speak with an attorney. Product Liability cases are complex, and involve taking on large corporations, as well as their lawyers and insurance companies. The Callahan Law Firm’s experienced Defective Products attorneys have fought for people injured by defective products including Takata airbags and they can fight for you too. Contact us online, or give us a call at 713-224-9000 to see how we can help you.