Earlier this year, Angelina Sujata, a South Carolina resident, filed a personal injury lawsuit against Honda and Takata for serious injuries caused by her car’s airbag deployment. According to the products liability lawsuit, Sujata’s 2001 Honda Civic rear-ended another vehicle, which caused the car’s Takata airbag inflator to explode with such excessive force that it shot pieces of metal into her chest. As a result, Sujata has had two surgeries, the most recent of which was to remove metal pieces stuck in her chest that was causing her pain.
Takata Airbag Defect
According to the suit, the frontal airbag system in Sujata’s Civic was designed and manufactured with an excessive energetic inflator, which deployed with dangerous and excessive explosive force and expelled shrapnel during its deployment. At a Senate hearing, executives of the company admitted that the company utilizes ammonium nitrate as a propellant in its airbag inflators, which is extremely sensitive to changes in the temperature and moisture, and will deteriorate over time. If the propellant breaks down, due to high humidity or other causes, the result is that the chemical burns too rapidly, creating excessive pressure in the inflator body.
An estimated thirty million vehicles have been recalled in the United States, mostly Honda vehicles, and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is calling for more. Most of these airbags were installed in cars from model year 2002 through 2008, although, in some cases they can be found in cars made as late as 2014.
Injuries Due to Defective Products
Sujata alleges that the design, testing, manufacturing, distribution, and sale of the Takata airbags resulted in a defective and unreasonably dangerous automobile and airbag system that could not protect the driver in an accident. Generally, there are three types of defects that can support a personal injury claim:
1. Manufacturing Defects: Manufacturing defects occur during the time a product is made and usually involves only a specific product that causes injury – not the whole product line. Manufacturing defects generally occur when a product is made with poor quality materials or was carelessly assembled, which results in the omission of certain steps from the prescribed manufacturing process.
2. Design Defects: Design defects are more costly to correct because they are present in the entire product line and not just the specific product involved in the injury. In this case, the defect is inherent to the product’s design and is not caused by a manufacturing mistake. Even if the product was perfectly made according to the right specifications and with the right materials, the injury-causing defect would still be present.
3. Marketing Defects: Marketing defects come from a manufacturer’s failure to inform customers of how to use, or not to use, the product to avoid injury. Usually, marketing defects or “failure to warn” cases involve products that still pose a danger to consumers even if properly designed or manufactured. A marketing defect may exist if the product fails to warn users at all about risks, or when the product has warnings that are so vague that the average consumer would not be able to understand what the danger is or how to avoid it.