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Another Death Has Been Blamed on Defective Takata Airbags

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And now there are 20: a crash in Baton Rouge, Louisiana in July is known to have been caused by a defective airbag.

Baton Rouge, LAAnother death has been revealed from faulty Takata defective airbags after a man from Louisiana succumbed to his airbag injuries following a crash in July. The death has been confirmed by Honda, the manufacturer of the car the victim was driving when the accident took place. The death, revealed to Honda and the media late last month, brings to 20 the number of deaths worldwide that have been attributed to the problematic airbags.

While various media outlets – including the Associated Press (AP) have reported on the most recent airbag injury death, WBRZ 2 (12/20/17) in Baton Rouge has revealed the victim as George Robertson ‘Rob’ Sharp, Jr. The victim, who was 60 years of age, is reported to have crashed the 2004 Honda Civic he was driving into the rear of the car in front, after which his airbag deployed with deadly force.

Death and injury keeps happening while the majority of defective airbags have yet to be replaced

The accident – and the death – bears all the markings of the troubled aftermath surrounding a decision by airbag manufacturer Takata Corp. of Japan years ago to switch to a less-expensive, but more volatile propellant. Ammonium nitrate has been known to become unstable with age, as well as exposure to extreme heat and high humidity. When triggered by sensors in a crash, unstable ammonium nitrate can burn too quickly, producing forces capable of not only inflating the airbag, but also blowing apart the metal canister in which the airbag is encased, sending shards of metal and shrapnel careening through the passenger compartment.

Scores of people have been injured, and 20 have died. According to WBRZ, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) examined the car late last month and confirmed Honda’s own findings to Honda spokesperson Marcos Frommer.

Previous reports have suggested that Takata, at the time facing stiff competition in a crowded airbag market, switched to the less-expensive propellant in an effort to reduce its price point and gain market share. It worked, with Takata growing to eventually become the leading supplier of airbags.

Defective airbag replace rate is about 43 percent

That success however has translated into the largest airbag recall in US history and precipitated the demise of Takata. The sheer depth and breadth of the Takata recall – more than 100 million defective airbag inflators have been recalled worldwide – has also hamstrung the capacity to replace the potentially dangerous inflators in a timely manner. It was reported the NHTSA began coordinating the recalls two years ago in the US, and while the goal was to have all the defective airbag inflators replaced by now, in reality the replacement rate has only achieved 43 percent – less than half.

Honda has reportedly resorted to going door-to-door in an effort to prompt vehicle owners to respond to recall notices. Many don’t. According to WBRZ, the owners of the 2004 Honda Civic involved in the crash that took the life of George Robertson Sharp, Jr. had been issued multiple recall notices pertaining to the defective airbag inflator installed as original equipment in the vehicle. However, those notices went unheeded.

What complicates the matter further is the installation of a used replacement airbag into the 2004 Honda Civic from a 2002 Civic model that was facilitated some time before the crash. There was no suggestion in the WBRZ report – or other media reports – as to why the inflator had been replaced.

However, a sidebar to the defective airbag story that has translated into a rapidly growing issue is the removal of intact defective airbag inflators from recalled cars, only to be used as replacement airbags in different vehicles. Replacement airbags are much less expensive than new, original equipment and are popular when rehabilitating a damaged car.

However, the consequences for disaster and the potential for airbag injury are multiplied further by the transference of recalled airbags from one car, to another. Salvage yards are not allowed to knowingly sell a recalled airbag as used parts, however current laws lack teeth and enforcement masquerades as education at best.

The Dorado story continues to illustrate the ticking time bomb

An oft-cited example was the relatively low-speed crash last year that injured a young woman from Nevada. Karina Dorado was hit in the throat and neck with shrapnel from a disintegrating airbag inflator and is lucky to be alive. Her father had purchased the car she had been driving so she could commute to, and from her job. After the crash it was revealed the vehicle had been previously given a salvage title, and had received a recalled airbag from another vehicle.

WBRZ reports that some airbag inflators manufactured by Takata and installed in 2001 through 2003 Honda vehicles are amongst the most dangerous, with a risk of catastrophic failure as high as 50 percent.

Dorado’s family is pursuing an airbag injury lawsuit. It is not known if the family of the late George Robertson Sharp, Jr. intends on following the same path.


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