Product Liability: Takata Airbags

Sometimes, social media curate the news, and sometimes they make the news with various memes and #hashtags that go viral to create news items of general interest of their own.

Sometimes, the news will create its own hashtag, and not in a good way. Why? Because this hashtag actually doesn’t make it into social media; it’s just a PR nightmare.

#Takata is not a thing on social media, but it is a dangerous word in the automotive industry these days. So in its own way, Takata has become a “thing.”

Takata is a Japanese firm that has a contract with many U.S. and foreign automakers for manufacturing the airbag systems in hundreds of models of vehicles on the road. It has been a trusted partner, until about two years ago, when an initial recall was ordered from some defective airbags. Those few defective airbags eventually morphed into the largest auto recall of any kind in automotive history.

How large is it? Well consider that Takata has been manufacturing and installing airbags into model cars for as many as 19 different automakers over 14 model years (2002 to 2015). If you carry the one, that’s an awful lot of cars to be recalled. Over the last year, the recall has tripled in size and now apparently involves as many as 37 million U.S. vehicles.

The recall stemmed from an inflator inside the airbags, which on occasion would ignite and explode. Other airbags would deploy and send shards of metal from a ruptured inflator casing into the passenger cabin, putting all passengers in the car at risk of injury. The recalls have resulted in several class-action lawsuits over the last couple of years, with many of the automakers suing Takata for relief.

The most recent result came in July, when Ford Motor Company settled with Takata with a deal that would put some compensatory damages in the hands of those involved in the class action p plus other Ford car owners who wish to participate; and Ford will give loaner cars while vehicles are waiting for repairs to the airbags. The parts are backlogged by weeks or months, so the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) is helping with the delivery of parts by prioritizing areas with high concentration of Takata airbags, as well as those vehicles which seem to have a higher risk of explosion to gain top priority for any new parts delivery.

In the meantime, the NHTSA is asking owners of model-year vehicles from 2002 to 2015 to refer to their vehicle identification number (VIN) and enter it into an online database that can give status updates on any recalls pending for those vehicles, stop ensure that all affected vehicles are found and repaired as quickly as possible, So far, none of the models are deemed undrivable, but extreme caution is urged until the repairs can be made.