Nichol Barker was only 34 when she was driving her two young children and her mother at a respectful speed along a two-lane when another car suddenly turned in front of her. The low-speed crash was easily survivable. But not for Barker…
Holiday, FLAirbags were originally designed to help prevent injury and death, not cause them. However, the debacle that is the Takata airbag recall– the largest automotive recall in US history – continues to cause sometimes horrific airbag injuries, and on occasion airbag deaths.
And now, there are 21.
The Associated Press (AP 01/17/18) reports that a 34-year-young woman from Florida lost her life after an otherwise survivable collision triggered the deployment of a defective Takata-manufactured airbag that sent shards of sharp metal fragments careening into the unprotected head of the unsuspecting driver.
Nichol Barker, who hailed from Holiday, in the Sunshine State didn’t stand a chance. AP reports the unstable propellant that lay at the heart of the Takata airbag recall deployed the airbag with such force that the metal inflator casing blew apart. The aftermath left the stricken woman with a gaping 6-inch-by-3-inch wound in her left temple. Barker suffered a skull fracture as well as bruising and bleeding to her brain.
All she was doing was leisurely driving her family…
Even more tragic, according to AP, Barker’s children and her mother were witness to the horrific airbag injury. They were riding in the car with the doomed woman when, according to lead investigator Sgt. Chester T. Everett a 19-year-old driver piloting a 1999 Pontiac Trans Am undertook a left-hand turn in front of the 2002 Honda Accord driven by Barker.
According to the accident investigation, Barker’s Accord – carrying a recalled Takata airbag on the drivers’ side – struck the passenger side of the Trans Am at about 30 miles per hour.
The accident report cited the young man driving the Trans Am for making an illegal left turn. As Barker was proceeding along the two-lane road at a sensible speed of 30 miles per hour, catastrophic injury could not have been a foregone conclusion. As it was, Barker’s mother, her 10-year-old son and the driver of the other car received minor injuries. Barker’s five-year-old daughter was unhurt. Nichol Barker, however – the driver – was mortally wounded. Rushed to the hospital by air ambulance, Barker was pronounced dead a little more than a half hour after the crash.
Experts agree she would have otherwise survived the low-impact crash
According to AP, Barker had purchased the 2002 Honda Accord from a private vendor in 2016. The vehicle had been the subject of a Takata airbag recall the year before – in May, 2015 – but investigators determined the recall notice had not been followed up, and the defective Takata airbag in the 2002 Accord had not been replaced.
It is unclear if the vendor or Barker knew of the vehicle’s history prior to the purchase.
The medical examiner who conducted the autopsy on the remains of the stricken 34-year-old concurred with the observations of Sgt. Everett that Barker would have survived the low-speed crash were it not for the defective airbag, and the catastrophic airbag injuries suffered by the young woman.
Older-model cars – especially those encompassing model years 2001 through 2003 – are particularly susceptible to the peculiarities of the ammonium nitrate propellant that is known to become unstable with age, or in areas of high heat and humidity. More stable – and more expensive propellants have proven reliable in deploying the airbag according to dedicated parameters of speed and force to achieve maximum injury avoidance within a collision event short of actually causing injury.
However, with the less-expensive ammonium nitrate, instability can result in a too-rapid burn of the ammonium nitrate during deployment, increasing outward forces exponentially. When this happens, even the sturdy metal casing of the inflator housing is no match for the explosive characteristic of unstable ammonium nitrate.
Takata switched to more volatile propellant because it was cheaper
Takata is reported to have gone against the advice of its own engineers and technicians when it switched to the less-expensive ammonium nitrate to better control costs, and to achieve better price points when compared against competitors in the airbag industry. The gambit worked, and Takata became arguably the largest supplier of airbags to the automotive industry.
However, such success has translated to the largest recall in US history once the dust settled: 69 million inflators within 42 million vehicles in the US alone. More than 100 airbag recalls involving Takata-manufactured airbags involving side airbags, curtain airbags and other examples of airbag failure have reverberated around the world.
APreports of those who have died globally, five deaths have occurred in Malaysia, with one death in Australia. The remainder have been in the US. The Barker accident is reported to have occurred in July. However it came to light only recently.
Takata has been inundated with airbag lawsuits, to the point where the manufacturer declared Chapter 11 Bankruptcy in Delaware in June of last year. While a freeze on state enforcement actions was lifted December 20, a freeze on litigation for individual claims imposed in late November has been extended to the end of February.
The case is In re Takata Airbags Product Liability Litigation, Case No. 1:15-md-02599, in the US District Court for the Southern District of Florida.
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