Sommers Schwartz attorney Jason Thompson, along with attorneys from four other law firms, recently filed a class action against Takata Corporation and Honda Motor Co. Ltd., seeking damages over allegedly defective Takata airbags installed in more than 5.5 million Honda vehicles in the United States. The lawsuit, currently pending in the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California, claims that the airbags have injured and killed several drivers and passengers since the defects were first discovered—and concealed—by Takata in 2001.

Apart from physical injuries, vehicle owners and lessees have sustained other economic injuries and losses alleged in the case, including:

  • Fraudulent concealment of the defect;
  • Negligent failure to recall;
  • Unjust enrichment;
  • Partial loss of use; and
  • Substantial decrease in resale value.

The plaintiffs allege that these injuries are violations of governing state and federal laws such as the Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act, the California Consumer Legal Remedies Act, the California Unfair Competition Law, the California False Advertising Law, and the Michigan Consumer Protection Act.

The lawsuit claims that the defects in the airbags date back to at least June 2000, and that Takata knew about the defects as early 2001 when Isuzu recalled vehicles over reports of exploding Takata airbags. According to the complaint, Takata failed to inform federal regulators about a 2004 injury due to an exploding airbag, instead concealing the incident until a 2009 inquiry by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. In the meantime, Takata allegedly conducted secret, closely guarded airbag tests at its Auburn Hills, Michigan headquarters outside of normal work hours—tests that revealed startling defects that allowed steel inflators in the airbags to rupture and explode. The results were hidden from everyone outside the small group of employees necessary to the testing procedures.

In the years that followed, additional serious injuries and deaths occurred when airbag shrapnel exploded into the necks, limbs, and faces of drivers and passengers. These tragedies led to several piecemeal recalls and some limited contact with federal safety regulators, but at no time did Honda or Takata issue a broad recall or full disclosure that could have prevented further harm.

Although the defective airbags have recently received considerable public attention in the United States, Takata has yet to fully take responsibility and comprehensively address the problem. For example, earlier this month Takata refused the federal government’s demand for a nationwide recall, insisting that the problems are only regional. Since the issue has come to light, Takata has proposed a variety of explanations for the defects (including faulty manufacturing equipment, moisture-sensitive explosives, rust, bad welds, and even chewing gum), but apparently still has not determined the true cause. Federal investigations are ongoing, but to date Takata has yet to provide owners and lessees of defective vehicles with safe replacement parts or loaner vehicles to use while the problem is being addressed.

Some affected automakers are following a different strategy, albeit belatedly. According to the Associated Press, some Japanese automakers, including Honda, Nissan, Mitsubishi, and Mazda, have recently expanded their airbag recalls amid the uproar over the Takata defects. On November 24, 2014, Honda finally admitted that it had grossly underreported to federal regulators the number of deaths and injuries possibly linked to airbag defects in the last ten years. Bloomberg News reports that Honda is seeking to hire an analyst to deal with the fallout from the airbag debacle and an engineer to audit the quality of airbag suppliers.

Sommers Schwartz’s Complex Litigation Group has years of experience pursuing injury and consumer protection claims against large corporations. If you have purchased or leased a vehicle that contains a defective airbag, please contact us today to discuss your situation and your right to recover for any losses you may have incurred.

Jason J. Thompson

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Jason J. Thompson

Jason Thompson is a nationally board certified trial attorney and co-chairs Sommers Schwartz’s Complex Litigation Department. He has a formidable breadth of litigation experience, including class action and multidistrict litigation (MDL), and practices nationwide in both state and federal courts.