Takata pleads guilty to airbag defects, agrees to $1 billion settlement

The CBS Evening News (2/27, story 7, 0:25, Pelley, 11.17M) reported Takata Corp. pleaded guilty Monday to fraud charges stemming from its concealment of airbag defects. The CBS Evening News said at least 11 deaths were linked to the defect, while NBC Nightly News (2/27, story 6, 0:30, Holt, 16.61M) and the AP (2/27, Krisher, White) put the number closer to 16. Takata has agreed to pay $1 billion in criminal penalties, which the AP notes is “small compared with the [sum] imposed on Volkswagen,” and Kelley Blue Book executive publisher Karl Brauer explains this is likely to allow the company to stay in business in order to follow through on recall efforts. NBC News (2/27, 2.67M) reports that due to a part shortage, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration will implement “a series of staged recalls” that focus “on vehicles using the oldest Takata airbags first.”

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According to USA Today (2/27, Snavely, 5.28M), Chief Financial Officer Yoichiro Nomura expressed the firm’s “deep regret” and called the conduct “completely unacceptable.” US District Judge George Caram Steeh reportedly reluctantly accepted the plea agreement, but Reuters (2/27) says some inflator rupture victims’ lawyers raised objections to the settlement Monday because they anticipate the settlement “will be used by automakers to avoid liability,” a court clerk indicated. The Detroit (MI) Free Press (2/27, Snavely, 1.01M) specifies that the plea bargain allows Takata to shield its US subsidiary, TK Holdings, from civil liability, according to court filings by one victim’s attorney. The Hill (2/27, Zanona, 1.25M) reports Acting Assistant Attorney General Kenneth Blanco’s statement that claims the Japanese company “abused the trust of both its customers and the public.”

Lawsuit alleges automakers were accomplices in Takata airbag cover-up. The Wall Street Journal (2/27, Spector, Colias, Subscription Publication, 6.37M) reports a Florida lawsuit filed Monday alleges five automakers used Takata’s air bags for years to save money, despite knowing about their safety risks. According to the filing, Honda Motor Co., Toyota Motor Corp., Ford Motor Co., Nissan Motor Co., and BMW AG intentionally put customer lives at risk. The New York Times (2/27, Tabuchi, Subscription Publication, 13.9M) says the lawsuit accused the companies of being “accomplices in the cover-up” by Takata, and relies on internal documents from Honda that reveals the company pushed for dangerous airbag configurations in 2000. The Washington Post (2/27, Overly, 11.43M) says the case raises “new questions about who should shoulder blame for the 11 deaths and 180 injuries the air bags have caused in the United States, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.” In response to the filing, Takata suggested in its agreement with the Justice Department that the company’s guilty plea “should have ‘limited (if any) impact’ on the pending civil litigation, because it does not address Takata’s liability in the particular case.”

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