New Jersey Civil Rights and Personal Injury Trial Lawyer Discusses Takata Airbag Recalls
Until recently, you've probably never heard of a company called "Takata," a company in Asia that makes airbags for cars. Between 2000 and 2008, Takata made, and sold to a number of auto manufacturers, airbags that were defective. The defect was that high humidity could cause passenger-side airbags to "explode," littering the interior of the vehicle with deadly metallic fragments. Automakers affected by the defective airbags included BMW, Dodge, Ram, Chrysler, Ford, Pontiac, Saab, Honda, Acura, Mazda, Mitsubishi, Nissan, Infiniti, Subaru, Toyota and Lexus.
According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration's (NHTSA) website, the "window of danger" appears to cover the period from 2000 to 2008, with most of the "dangerous" model-years being between 2003 and 2006 for most models and in most cases.
In June of 2014, about 900,000 vehicles containing the faulty airbags were recalled in two states, Florida and Hawaii, and from two U.S. territories, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands. That recall was initiated by Takata itself. Honda voluntarily expanded the recall to an additional 2.4 million vehicles registered or first sold in Alabama, California, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina and Texas.
What the Takata states have in common is "high humidity," the saturation factor of water vapor in any cubic volume of air. Now look, I understand that meteorological chemistry well, and I'm sure most intelligent people get that idea. Everyone knows what "high humidity" feels like, thus the old expression "It's not the heat that gets you, it's the humidity." A "hot" humid day feels a lot worse than a "hot" dry day at the same temperature.
So we all get what high humidity is. But how high does the humidity have to be before the propellant inside the airbag "erupts," causing a hand grenade-like explosion inside the car? Guess what? What "amount" creates the greatest risk? Takata doesn't know either. They were gambling, as corporations so often do, that by recalling the airbags in the states that they randomly decided had the "highest humidity" (whatever the hell that means), they'd be spending few enough dollars to "get away with" a recall that looked genuine but probably isn't going to do the job. How do we know it's not going to do the job?
Because, of the deaths that have been caused so far by these exploding defective airbags, two of those four deaths were in states not on Takata's recall list.
How cynical is that? Takata knows in which states the deaths occurred. In any state in the United States, you can find someone who knows what an incredibly hot humid day feels like. High humidity occurs everywhere, Takata. The risk of exploding airbags exists in every state in which the cars operate.
But as is so typical, what does a corporation do when its attempt to hide the defect that costs lives is finally revealed? Does it do the right thing even after its caught red handed? Of course not. It tries to spend as few dollars as humanly possible.
Shamefully, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration appears negligently culpable in this attempt to spare Takata costs. After Takata announced its extraordinarly cynical recall, and the NHTSA apparently was "okay" with that, Congress began to apply pressure to get Takata to widen the recall.
Two legislators said in a letter to the NHTSA that it should "immediately issue a nationwide safety recall on all of the affected cars, regardless of where the car is registered."
Well that makes sense, or perhaps you don't know what a humid day feels like.
Look, I voted for President Obama twice. I don't love the guy at this point, and I have a lot of beefs with how he's handled his presidency, but I know he was better than the alternatives. At the same time, even his admittedly democratic and marginally "progressive" government is still a "government," and that means that it moves like a fat sloth backing uphill over broken glass. It never moves fast enough to get things done because it's innately bureaucratic.
Do you know what's gonna get things done much faster? Lawyers litigating wrongful death cases and catastrophic injury cases in the courts against Takata, that's what. That's what we need to get things done, unless you want to see how many more deaths occur before the recall is expanded to nationwide.
And just remember, corporations lie because they can. When a "corporation" does something, remember that although it's human beings that do it - since a piece of paper can't do anything - the "corporate shield" usually protects the human beings that act in the corporation's name from the worst personal consequences of servicing the corporation's aims.
Since the corporation is a piece of paper, and has no soul, its "aim" is to make as much money as humanly possible in any way possible, without moral or other human accountability.
Put that all together and you have the horrible witch's brew. Corporations protect humans that have consciences from the worst moral consequences of what those humans do in order to grant them the ability to service the corporation's desire - the piece of paper that doesn't have a conscience - for as much money as possible.
Because we do things this way, people aren't held personally accountable for what they do in the corporate name.
I would have no problem with personal accountability and complete destruction of the corporate shield. Human beings should be personally accountable for what they do no matter in whose name or in "what's name" they're doing it. Takata was aware of this problem as early as 2004 when an airbag in a 2002 Honda Accord ruptured in Alabama. Neither Takata nor Honda issued a recall or sought the involvement of federal safety regulators.
While all this bullshit goes on, and while Takata is continually let off the hook, and while the automakers are let off the hook, the ruptures (and deaths) continue. Just this month, Hien Tran, 51, died after the airbag in her 2001 Honda Accord ruptured, sending pieces of metal into her neck. Detectives who had initially suspected Ms. Tran was murdered - so horrible was the violence - said last week that her wounds were consistent with injuries caused by shrapnel from an exploding airbag.
And in a way, she was murdered - by Takata's purposeful delay and coverup.
Will any Takata execs go to jail? No way. Ain't the "corporate way."
The older I get, the more disgusted I become with the "U.S." way of doing things. I think commerce is great, I think capitalism is great, but it's time to have personal accountability, which means personal liability and jail time, for individuals who do things in the name of a corporation and then pretend that they didn't do it, the "company" did.
It's only lawyers and free access to the jury system that gets things done, not government action, even "progressive" government action.