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Fender Bender Air Bag Deployment Left Texas Woman with Eye Damage

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Harlingen, TXA woman from Harlingen, Texas in the Rio Grande Valley was driving through her neighborhood on December 8, 2015 when she had a fender bender in her 2012 Honda Civic. According to Mary Lou Rodriguez she clipped a parked truck at no more than 15 miles per hour.

There was a huge bang as the airbag deployed thrusting her body backwards into her seat with a tremendous force.

“I was in shock. I couldn’t get my seatbelt undone. Some of my neighbors came out and helped me get out the car,” says Rodriguez. “I had blood coming down from face and I just was worried that I was going to lose my eye. Then the ambulance came.”

At the hospital the ophthalmologist told Rodriguez her left eyeball had a slight tear and she now had a cataract in her left eye as a result of the injury sustained when the airbag deployed. (Yes, that can happen). She had some minor scratches on her face, arms and nose. Her left thumb was burned likely from the ammonium nitrate chemical inside the airbag.

“The sun and the light affects my eye and I can’t see very much with that eye,” says Rodriguez.

“In my opinion it was so much pressure from the airbag,” says Rodriguez. “I have records that say all that and of course I didn’t have a cataract before the accident.

“I had a lot of blood in my eye. It took weeks for that to disappear. But the cataract is the big thing and I need surgery, but I don’t have any insurance so I haven’t done anything about it. We can’t afford insurance for the whole family even though my husband has a good job.”

The car insurance company authorized repairs to the car before any investigation regarding the details of the airbag deployment could be explored says Rodriguez. “And also, I was told that my 2012 Honda was not part of the airbag recalls.”

The Takata airbag recall now involves 19 different automakers and it is considered to be what NHTSA calls “the largest and most complex safety recall in US history”. It now includes some 42 million vehicles in the US alone. Some vehicles have more than one defective bag so the actual number of airbags involved is in the neighborhood of 70 million airbags.

The problem is, as is well-known, that the airbags are defective. Sometimes they inflate for no reason, or at very low speeds, or sometimes they fail to inflate when they should. And as they deploy they can propel shards of metal outward injuring people in the vehicle.

Sixteen people have been reported killed by exploding airbags, 11 of them in the US. Another 180 people have been seriously injured.

NHTSA investigations have determined the airbag issues are due to the fact that the “ammonium nitrate-based propellant” can been affected by time, environmental conditions like heat and moisture causing improper inflating of the airbags.

The recalls first started in 2014 for several million Hondas but it has continued to expand year after year with more vehicle models and years included on the list. Honda vehicles have by far sustained most of the recalls.

Although Mary Lou Rodriguez’s 2012 Honda Civic is not on the recall list that list continues to grow every year and she’s is not really confident that the airbag in her car was not defective.

She admits that she was a distracted driver that day in 2015. She was checking her cell phone the day she hit the parked truck. However, being distracted doesn’t necessarily cause airbags to explode.

The insurance company authorized repairs to the car and there was no way to investigate the details of the airbag deployment says Rodriguez. “And also, they told me that my 2012 Honda was not part of the recall. I don’t understand because there are more and more cars mentioned all the time in the news,” she says.

Meanwhile, Rodriguez needs cataract surgery that she can’t afford. That airbag that was supposed to keep her safe, defective or not, ended up causing her a serious eye injury.

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