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Hawaii Becomes First State to Sue Over Defective Airbags and Horrific Injuries

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Kapolei, HIIt took some time, as broad brand recognition often does. Be that as it may, the motoring public is beginning to recognize the brand “Takata” with growing awareness that approaches solid and long-serving brands such as Honda - however, without the association with quality that a brand like Honda usually conveys. In this case, Takata is becoming entrenched in the lexicon of Americans for the airbag injuries often associated with the troubled safety device.

And those injuries can be horrific.

According to CNN Money (11/20/14), officers responding to two separate airbag injury emergencies were convinced the victims had been shot or stabbed.

One of the victims, Hai Ming Xu, was involved in a minor accident in the parking lot at the restaurant where he worked in September 2013. His car, equipped with an airbag manufactured by Takata, hit the wall of a nearby building, deploying the airbag. When police arrived, Xu’s injuries were so severe that officers were convinced the California man had been shot in the face.

In reality, Xu was felled by shrapnel flying out of the Takata airbag as it deployed.

A similar conclusion had been reached by Orlando police after responding to a call. The victim, Hien Thi Tran, presented with injuries that led police to believe she had been stabbed.

But, no. As with Hai Ming Xu, Tran’s injuries had been caused by shrapnel flying into her from the defective airbag.

Both drivers died.

There are more horror stories involving defective airbag injuries. Air Force Lt. Stephanie Erdman, who appeared before a Senate committee hearing on the matter, testified that a relatively minor accident left her with a horrific eye injury when the Takata airbag, meant to protect her from harm, instead projected a jagged metallic shard into her right eye and fractured her right nasal bone. “My passenger only had mild scrapes and bruises,” she told lawmakers.
“I should not have been injured in the shocking and terrifying way that I was.”

Erdman produced a graphic photograph at the hearing, showing a large metallic shard protruding from her right eye. Erdman is now sight-impaired in that eye.

Yet another victim of Takata airbags, Kristy Williams, wasn’t even involved in a collision. The Takata airbag in her vehicle suddenly deployed while Williams was stopped at a red light.

Razor-sharp shrapnel released by the airbag in the deployment tore into Williams’s carotid artery, and she would have bled to death in seconds were it not for her foresight to insert two of her fingers into the wound to stem the bleeding. A nearby pedestrian came to her aid to put pressure on her neck until help arrived.

In the aftermath of the 2010 airbag injury, Williams has suffered several strokes and now suffers from traumatic brain injury, according to the airbag lawsuit she has filed.

In fact, various airbag lawsuits targeting Takata allege airbag failure that has caused injury or death. The New York Times (5/14/16) reports there have been at least 10 deaths in the United States and three overseas following a malfunction of the Takata airbag that results in shards of metallic debris sent flying into the passenger compartment. More than 100 people have been injured. Safety regulators within the automotive industry have determined that long-term exposure to excessive moisture and temperature changes over time can degrade the propellant, causing it to become unstable and rupture the interior of the airbag without any outside trigger from a collision, however minor.

It should come as no surprise then that a US state with high humidity has become the first state in the union to formally file an airbag failure lawsuit against Takata. According to the New York Times, Hawaii launched its action against Takata and Honda Motor Corp May 13 in the State of Hawaii Circuit Court, 1st Circuit. While Takata supplies front airbags, side airbags and curtain airbags to various automotive brands, the state of Hawaii has determined that Honda is the manufacturer most impacted by the airbag recall by Takata.

The state is seeking penalties, as well as efforts on the part of both Takata and Honda to undertake greater efforts to spread awareness of the Takata airbag failure defect.

The State of Hawaii seeks $10,000 in penalties from the defendants for every affected vehicle owner in the state. Given that some 70,000 vehicles have been recalled in Hawaii over defective airbags, the financial hit to Takata and Honda would be $700 million.

There could also be costs associated with restitution and injunctive relief.

”We’re not going to sit back and wait for more accidents to happen,” said Steve Levins, the state’s director of consumer protection, in an interview with the New York Times. “We’re also seeking that consumers be compensated for any losses associated with this incident, whether that’s alternative transportation costs, or a diminished value of their vehicle.”

Meanwhile, the airbag recall involving Takata appears to be mushrooming akin to an out-of-control wildfire. While the Takata airbag recall has been cooking along for some time, Honda had indicated prior to the filing of the Hawaii airbag lawsuit that the manufacturer had planned to recall a further 21 million vehicles globally. That would raise Honda’s total number of vehicles recalled for the defective airbag issue to 51 million around the world.

But that figure could go even higher yet. Earlier this month, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) compelled Takata to work in conjunction with various automakers to recall an additional 35 to 40 million vehicles in the United States alone, bringing the total number of recalled vehicles in the United States to 64 million.

It has been reported that automakers had initially confined some of their recalls to states with a prevalence for humid air such as Florida and Hawaii, as well as the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands.

But that airbag failure recall is going wider, now.

The New York Times reports that Takata and Honda were alerted to the airbag failure as early as 2004, and allegedly failed to alert regulators over the failure reports. Recalls were eventually ordered, but not until 2008 - four years after learning of the problem - and initially, just 4,000 vehicles were subject to the Takata airbag recall.

That number is now expected to be 64 million in the United States alone, and the financial viability of Takata over the long term is said to be in doubt. The airbag manufacturer posted a net loss of $120 million for its fiscal year ending in March.

Victims of airbag failure have no sympathy. Their airbag lawsuits will continue, as will that of Hawaii. Other states may follow…


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