After many years, lawsuits, recalls, injuries, deaths, and reports of malpractice by both manufacturers and automakers, the Takata airbag saga has become a massive, sprawling thing that’s almost too terrifying to try to keep up with. If you stopped paying attention, don’t, because it’s far from over.
In a situation where the story has become so massively complicated that it almost distracts from how bad things are and have been—the trail of the many documented Takata-related problems can be traced back roughly two decades—drivers continue to sue, alleging injuries related to the airbags. Those lawsuits are a reminder of the human toll the industry’s transgressions have taken.
The Takata story is a long and exhausting one, from the millions of recalled vehicles to the triple-digit injury counts and double-digit death toll. But the main theme is that the bankrupt Takata spent years making faulty airbag inflators with the potential to explode and spew shrapnel in order to save some cash, and at least some automakers knew of the threat.
Still, the inflators went into cars, and the cars went years without recalls. Some vehicles have been recalled multiple times since the overdue recalls began, and the most recent Takata recall we wrote about was this month.
The vast and ever-expanding landscape that is Takata’s deadly airbags, contrary to what one would assume, is somewhat of a dulling agent on the whole thing—to the point that carmakers were going door to door and creating apps in almost dystopian fashion in order to incentivize owners to get their Takata recalls done, because the saga has been a monstrosity of a thing to keep up with.
But a recent lawsuit from a California woman, along with others from this year, are a reminder that the Takata saga has been more than just a mess of unending recalls and allegations of misconduct. It’s impacted individuals’ lives.
Jocelyn Hernandez, the California resident who filed a lawsuit against Takata and Honda on Dec. 3, alleged within it that airbags in her 2005 Honda Accord “suddenly and unexpectedly exploded and collided with her face and body” in 2017. The first of multiple airbag-inflator recalls listed by the U.S. National Highway Traffic administration for the 2005 Accord came in 2014, a decade after the car came out. The most recent came in June of this year.
The lawsuit stated:
On December 24, 2017, at approximately1 [sic] 4:00 p.m., Plaintiff was in the driver’s seat of the subject vehicle, parked along the side of the street. While parked with the vehicle turned off, Plaintiff was struck on the driver’s side of the subject vehicle, and her vehicle’s air bag exploded into her face and body causing severe injuries.
As a result of the collision, Plaintiff suffered numerous severe injuries, including injuries to the neck, chest, shoulder, and traumatic brain injury. Residual effects of the incident continue to affect all aspects of Plaintiff’s daily life.
Honda responded, saying it is “working with Plaintiff’s counsel to coordinate dismissal of the claims” and channeling the claims to a compensation fund for injuries and deaths related to the airbags.
Another lawsuit this year came against Takata and Ford from Tiffany Golston, an Alabama resident who claimed to have been sitting in her parents’ 2006 Lincoln Navigator in January of 2017 when the airbag deployed and caused “personal injuries” upon the key being turned in the ignition. The injuries weren’t described beyond that.
In its response to the complaint, Ford “denie[d] it was negligent or wanton in failing to warn Plaintiff of the dangers, if any, associated with the use of its product.” Ford also denied that the airbags were defective.
No recalls have been done for the airbags in the 2006 Navigator as listed by the NHTSA, but multiple complaints have gone through the NHTSA about them either exploding or failing to deploy. In 2014, a complaint mirrored Golston’s:
2006 LINCOLN NAVIGATOR WAS PARKED. ENTERED VEHICLE AND INSERTED KEY IN IGNITION. I CRANKED THE VEHICLE, SAT BACK TO HAVE THE CAR WARM UP. ABOUT 5 SECONDS AFTER CRANKING THE VEHICLE, AIR BAG INADVERTENTLY DEPLOYED WITHOUT INCIDENT. CAR WAS FILLED WITH WHITE SMOKE. CONTACTED LOCAL FORD/LINCOLN DEALERSHIP AND WAS TOLD THEY HAD NEVER HEARD OF A VEHICLE AIRBAG DEPLOYING WITHOUT INCIDENT.
The complaint continued:
FORD/LINCOLN OFFERED TO PAY FOR THE REPAIRS, LESS A $200 DEDUCTIBLE BECAUSE, AS THEY STATED MY VEHICLE WAS NOT COVERED UNDER THE RECALL EVEN THOUGH IT’S THE SAME PROBLEM THAT OTHER VEHICLES WERE RECALLED FOR.
In July 2019, a Nebraska resident named Candice Novak filed a lawsuit against Takata and Honda, claiming hearing impairment and other injuries as a result of a faulty airbag during a 2015 collision in a 2012 Honda CR-V. The lawsuit described the explosion as such:
Rather than protecting the Plaintiff from injury, the airbag violently exploded with such excessive force that is caused the Plaintiff to suffer permanent hearing impairment, as well as other injury to Plaintiff’s head and neck.
The force with which the Plaintiff’s airbag deployed was unreasonable and dangerous and subjected the Plaintiff to an increased risk of loss and damage, rather than serving the intended and represented goal of protecting the Plaintiff in the even of a collision.
Novak’s claims also now fall under the compensation fund.
Takata has become synonymous with an overwhelming string of recalls and reports of malpractice over the years, making it difficult to both keep up with the news and keep cars up to date on recalls. But in that ever-growing web of bad news, it’s important to remember that it’s more than just news—it has a human toll, and many of us are still riding around with the devices taking that toll. The allegations above are just a few recent examples.
If you’re unclear whether your U.S.-spec car needs to go in for a recall, which won’t cost you a thing, you can check its status here.