Defective Takata air bags linked to tenth death
February 2016 – Diane M. Zhang
On Jan. 15, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) linked a another auto death to a defective air bag manufactured by Takata Corp. and ordered automakers to recall 5 million additional vehicles. The auto accident—which involved a 2006 Ford Ranger—marks the tenth death linked to the exploding air bag defect, and the first to not involve a Honda-manufactured vehicle. As Trial News previously reported, Takata’s defective air bags have resulted in the recall of about 24 million vehicles to date. The most recent recall extends to Volkswagen and Mercedes-Benz, two previously unaffected manufacturers.
Joel Knight, 52, died last December when his Ford Ranger hit a cow on the road, causing his vehicle to crash into a fence. The air bag exploded and sent metal shards through Knight’s neck, killing him. Although the defect’s cause is still unknown, regulators suspect that the air bag’s ammonium nitrate propellant breaks down and combusts when exposed to prolonged moisture, causing the inflator—the metal casing surrounding the propellant—to fail and rupture.
Takata is the only major air bag manufacturer to use ammonium nitrate in air bag propellant, and the company has repeatedly claimed that the compound is safe when treated with a stabilizing agent. However, a consent order prohibits Takata from manufacturing and supplying ammonium nitrate inflators to companies after Dec. 31, 2018—or from entering into any new contracts for the inflators. The defective air bags also are at the center of an MDL before Judge Federico Moreno of the Southern District of Florida, who denied Honda’s and Takata’s motions to dismiss the class action last December. Currently, Honda and Takata also face approximately 20 personal injury cases pending in state courts across the country, most of which have joined together in a voluntary coalition to streamline litigation.