Melton filed this latest airbag lawsuit in February 2017 against Honda and Takata, the Japanese airbag manufacturer, on behalf of Franceska Beaubien, who was driving a 2002 Honda Civic when a collision with a pick-up truck caused her airbag to deploy. According to the lawsuit, the airbag exploded, detached, and struck Beaubien in the face with such violent force that her jaw shattered, injuring her so severely that she had to be placed on a respirator and feeding tube.
Melton says that Beaubien’s catastrophic permanent injuries were caused by a dangerous airbag inflator defect that is at the heart of the largest automotive recall in United States history. Her injuries and many others, including a number of deaths, could have been prevented.
“Honda knew about this problem with Takata inflators for more than a decade before Franceska’s horrific accident,” says Melton. “The Honda dealership was aware of the vehicle because it was under two recalls but it didn’t have the parts of the airbag to replace it and failed to warn the prior owner about the true dangers. The vehicle was sold more than once and the current owner had no idea that there was a ticking time bomb in her car just waiting to go off. Francheska will never be the same again.”
The public was not aware of the true dangers lurking in their vehicles until Corey Burdick filed his lawsuit.
In May of 2014, Burdick got into a minor fender bender driving to work in Lake County, Florida. The Takata airbag in his 2001 Honda Civic fired sharp metal shrapnel into his face that caused permanently blindness in one eye. “We filed the lawsuit a few months later, and everything hit the fan,” says Melton. “This case got national attention and we realized there were no longer just a few isolated cases.” In a public service announcement video, a disfigured Burdick says that, “I lost my eye because of a defective airbag…take your car in today so that this doesn’t happen to you.” (Burdick eventually settled with Honda and Takata). Senator Bill Nelson met Corey and his family and got involved and really brought this problem to the national stage.
Since Corey Burdick’s case, hundreds of personal injury complaints have been filed—from minor to horrific injuries to deaths—involving many manufacturers. And manufacturers are still announcing recalls: Mercedes Benz just this week announced a recall of 400,000 cars in the UK over fears that “airbags could deploy in error”. While Mercedes is contacting customers by letter, countless vehicles with recalled airbags—the parts were not available-- are being sold by used car dealerships and the buyers are not warned of the dangers.
“People are being told to come back when the airbag parts are available. They are taking their lives into their own hands—even a minor fender bender can cause a tragedy,” adds Melton. (A report by CNN said it could take Takata and car makers until 2019 until all the replacement airbags are fitted. Melton says the recall will not be completed until 2035.)
“Right now, we have four such cases involving Honda vehicles bought from used car dealerships,” says Melton. “Tiffany Vu bought her Honda from a used car dealer and she still has shrapnel in her hand [sic] when her airbag exploded. Her doctor says there will be more damage if it’s removed. Another client has x-rays showing metal in his face.”
What You Should Do
If you, a member of your family or a friend has been injured, no matter how minor, contact an attorney to get the case filed. Melton says priority is being given to cases that the vehicle manufacturer and Takata are aware of. And preserving evidence is critical, such as the actual inflator and any pieces of shrapnel. In Burdick’s case the shrapnel was discarded but a doctor had the foresight to photograph a piece of metal that he pulled out of Corey’s eye.
Check if your vehicle has been recalled. Copy your VIN and visit the official recall checker from the NHTSA & SafeCar.gov.
Airbag Inflator Lawsuit
Beaubien’s lawsuit alleges that, rather than alert safety regulators and/or issue a recall to retrieve and replace the affected vehicles so as to help prevent future injuries, Honda has been paying injured drivers since 2004 (an Alabama incident) “an undisclosed sum of money in exchange for a binding confidentiality agreement. This was done for the purpose of concealing the existence, scope, and magnitude of the defect in the hopes of keeping it a secret from the American public and safety regulators.”
The lawsuit states the following:
HRD, HMC, AMERICAN HONDA, HONDA OF AMERICA, TAKATA CORP., and TK HOLDINGS have given a variety of shifting explanations for the cause of the exploding Takata airbag inflator defect. Based upon these varying explanations, as well as independent research, the defects which caused the Subject Vehicle’s airbag inflator to become detached and violently strike FRANCESKA BEAUBIEN in the neck and face include:
a. The Subject Airbag System’s propellant wafers were produced with inadequate compaction force, resulting in the propellant deteriorating over time, which in turn created excessive internal pressure and caused the inflator to become detached;
b. The Subject Airbag System’s propellant wafers were exposed to uncontrolled moisture conditions during production and absorbed a significant amount of moisture, resulting in the propellant deteriorating over time, which in turn created excessive internal pressure and caused the inflator to become detached;
c. The Subject Airbag System’s propellant was designed and manufactured with ammonium nitrate and other chemicals in a composition that degraded over time and resulted in the airbag deploying with greater force than the inflator could sustain, causing the inflator to become detached;
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e. The Subject Airbag System’s inflator and propellant were designed and manufactured in such a manner that they were unable to withstand the high heat and absolute humidity of Florida, and as a result, degraded over time, causing the inflator to become detached.
Frank Melton has successfully litigated numerous complicated products liability cases all over the U.S. to help make the public aware of dangerous situations and force those who are responsible to fix them. Frank and his team received one of the largest jury verdicts in Florida for a tread separation/rollover case.