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First Product Liability Lawsuits Filed in Massive Airbag Recall

Losing a child in a car accident is always tragic. But when you lose a child not because of the accident itself, but because the airbag that was supposed to keep her safe exploded instead, tragedy can turn to justified anger at the manufacturers who allowed a defective product to enter the market. That is the case for one family in Houston, Texas, who recently filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the companies responsible for producing a defective airbag at the center of the largest automotive recalls in U.S. history.

According to a May 4 statement from the U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), nearly 68 million airbag inflators produced by Japanese manufacturer Takata are defective. Specifically, NHTSA experts confirmed that “[a] combination of time, environmental moisture and fluctuating high temperatures contribute to the degradation of the ammonium nitrate propellant in the inflators.” This degradation causes the propellant inside the airbag to “burn too quickly, rupturing the inflator module and sending shrapnel through the air bag and into the vehicle occupants.”

Altogether, the NHTSA has issued recalls for between 35 and 40 million airbags. This is on top of a recall issued last year for approximately 24 million vehicles containing Takata airbags. NBC News noted the total number of vehicles affected by both recalls may exceed 50 million. As of late April 2016, only about one-third of the recalled vehicles have been repaired.

A “Minor Traffic Accident” Turns Deadly

Unfortunately the recall has come too late for a number of people. NBC News reported that “at least 11 people have died worldwide and over 100 have been hurt” due to the defective airbags. These figures will likely continue to rise as more reports become available.

In the Houston case, a 17-year-old girl driving a car with a Takata airbag was killed when she got into a rear-end collision with another vehicle. Although local law enforcement described this as a “minor traffic accident,” the impact caused the airbag to deploy, sending metal shrapnel into the teenager’s neck. The victim’s family has filed a product liability suit against Takata, as well as the manufacturer of the car and several related parties.

A key issue in this lawsuit—and no doubt in similar cases that will be forthcoming—is what exactly did Takata know and when did it know it. In November 2014, the New York Times reported Takata knew as far back as 1995 that “one of its airbags had ruptured and spewed metal debris at a driver in Alabama.” The Times said Takata conducted “secret tests” in 2004 on its airbags without informing the NHTSA. Indeed, it would be another four years before Takata publicly acknowledged there might be a problem.

Have You Been Injured Due to a Defective Product?

Every year thousands of people are injured or killed due to defective products. If you or a family member have been hurt due to a defective automobile or any other consumer product, it is important you seek assistance from an experienced Tennessee personal injury lawyer. Contact the offices of Fox, Farley, Willis & Burnette, in Clinton or Knoxville if you would like to speak with an attorney right away.

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