Dangerous Products – Apology for Malfunctioning Airbags

Over the past several months, airbag manufacturer Takata Corp. has been recalling millions of malfunctioning airbags that have been installed in almost a dozen models of U.S. vehicles. Specifically, the air bag malfunction issue involves defective inflators and propellant devices, which are parts of the airbag that cause the airbag to inflate. Several air bag injuries and deaths have occurred in Florida, and consumers who require legal help to pursue injury claims should contact experienced civil and trial attorneys in the area. Under product liability rules, many different parties involved in the design, manufacture, marketing, and sale of dangerous products may be held liable for the harms resulting from these defects.

How Airbag Deployment Works

Airbag Deployed Image
Image Source (CC BY 2.0) by benmcleod ff via flickr

According to the airbag manufacturer’s website, a properly functioning airbag is suppose to work like this:

  • at 0.003 seconds after a collision occurs, sensors in the vehicle detect the crash impact and send a signal to the car’s electronic control unit (ECU), notifying it that a crash has occurred.
  • at 0.015 seconds after the time of impact, the signal sent from the collision sensors to the ECU is processed and the ECU determines the severity of the crash impact based on the data received by the ECU. If the ECU determines that airbag deployment is necessary, it sends a signal to inflate the airbag inflators (which are a gas emitting device that releases gas to inflate the airbag).
  • at 0.020 seconds after impact, an igniter activates the airbag inflator. The igniter causes a chemical reaction that emits gas, resulting in the deployment of the airbag cushion. Inflation of the driver’s airbag takes between 20-30 milliseconds. Inflation of the passenger’s airbag takes between 30-40 milliseconds.
  • at 0.040 seconds after the crash, the force of the collision reaches the vehicle’s passengers, causing them to begin to move forward. By this time, the airbags are to be fully inflated and ready to receive/restrict the movement of the vehicle’s occupants.
  • at 0.060 seconds after impact, the motion of the passengers is to be absorbed by the airbags, as well as the seat belt load limiter and the crushing of the vehicle.
  • by 0.120 seconds after the accident, passenger motion is to be fully absorbed by the airbag, along with the help of the seat belts.

With the recalled Takata airbags, airbag deployment occurs at the time of a vehicle crash. However, in some cases, pieces of the airbag inflator and/or accelerant device are breaking free and being propelled along with the airbag. Because the airbag is inflating at 200 mph, these pieces of shrapnel can cause serious injuries or even kill the individuals whom the airbags are suppose to protect.

Millions Of Potentially Defective Takata Airbags Being Recalled

According to investigations thus far, the Takata airbag defect or defects have led to at least 139 reported injuries across all automakers, according to a New York Times report. While the exact cause of the airbag defect is not clear, some possible causes include:

  • mishandling of propellant chemicals;
  • improper storage of propellant chemicals during assembly;
  • rust on the parts; or
  • bad welds on the parts.

Since some of these potential causes can be made worse by high-humidity, the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA) has forced Takata to initiate additional regional recalls in Florida, Hawaii, and the U.S. Virgin Islands. NHTSA also has formally demanded that Takata institute a nationwide recall of vehicles that may contain defective driver’s side airbags.

Legal Liability – Apology is Only the Start

An executive for Takata Corp. recently apologized at a U.S. Senate hearing for the “instances in which a Takata airbag has not performed as designed and a driver or passenger has suffered personal injuries or death.” While an apology is a first start, victims need legal help for medical and hospital costs, pain and suffering, or other damages caused by the negligence of an airbag manufacturer. Fortunately, a critical component of the civil law provides an avenue by which that real, financial compensation be provided: a product liability lawsuit.

Under the civil law, most product liability claims involving vehicles fall into two camps–defective design or defective manufacture. As the name imply, the former refers to cases where all of a particular product are inherently dangers, where the design itself is flawed. The latter case, alternatively, refers to situations where a product can be safe but was built incorrectly leading it not to function as it normally would or should. An attorney can explain which of the two camps your particular case may fall into.

Importantly, all product liability cases often hinge on the principle of “strict liability.” This means that those affected may be able to recover regardless of whether specific negligence is shown. Proving negligence in one’s individual situation can be impossible in these cases, because it is difficult to determine exactly when a specific airbag was manufactured and collect evidence on what negligent action took place in the creation of that specific item. Under the law, however, plaintiffs can recover in these cases simply by showing that the manufacturer made the product at some point and that the product was defective–whether or not identifiable negligence caused the defect may be irrelevant.

There are many other complexities to these defective airbag cases. No two cases are identical and in some situations it may be critical to seek accountability from more than just the main manufacturer. Providers of parts to the manufacturer may also be responsible. In some cases, even car dearlerships, auto part supply shops, or other parties can be required to provide redress in whole or in part.

Get Legal Help

If you or someone you know has been injured by a defective airbag or any other dangerous product, contact Hoffman, Larin & Agnetti, P.A., South Florida’s experienced civil and trial attorneys. Our trusted and aggressive personal injury attorneys have been faithfully representing clients in Dade, Broward, and Monroe Counties since 1975. Call us today at 305-653-5555 or use our convenient online contact form to talk to us today.