In the wake of what the National Highway Transportation Authority (NHTSA) is calling “the largest and most complex safety recall in U.S. history,” three Takata executives face criminal charges related to the faulty airbags. Last Friday, federal prosecutors announced that they would proceed with criminal charges against the executives for their role in fabricating test data to mask a fatal airbag defect. Prosecutors also announced that Takata had agreed to plead guilty to charges of wire fraud for providing the false data, a rare outcome for businesses accused of wrongdoing. The company, based in Tokyo, was also fined $1 billion.
This is a huge recall that involves 19 different automakers involving approximately 42 million vehicles in the U.S., with the total number of airbags being between 64 and 69 million.
According to Consumer Reports, “NHTSA has determined the root cause of the problem: airbags that use ammonium nitrate-based propellent without a chemical drying agent. As postulated early on, environmental moisture, high temperatures, and age as associated with the defect that can improperly inflate the airbags and even send shrapnel into the occupant. To date, there have been 11 deaths and approximately 180 injuries due to this problem in the U.S.”
“They falsified and manipulated data because they wanted to make profits on their airbags, knowing they were creating risk for the end-users, who are soccer moms like me,” Barbara L. McQuade, a United States attorney for the Eastern District of Michigan, said at a news conference in Detroit.
“The risk they allowed is really reprehensible,” she said. “We want auto suppliers to know they have to put safety ahead of profits. Cheaters will not be allowed to gain a competitive advantage.”
The three executives facing criminal prosecution were intentionally manipulating data about the safety issues about which they had known for the past 15 years. While the announcement concerning the criminal charges was applauded by auto safety advocates, prosecution may be a difficult process. It is believed the three Takata executives live in Japan and the US would have to seek extradition in order to move forward with the criminal cases.
The New York Times, which has been investigating the faulty air bag issue since 2014, noted, “Senators Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut and Edward J. Markey of Massachusetts, Democrats who led congressional efforts to investigate Takata, called the Justice Department’s effort to hold executives accountable overdue. They also urged regulators to speed up efforts to fix affected cars.
“The effort to protect drivers from Takata’s wrongdoing does not stop here,” they said in a joint statement. “We must recall every single vehicle with a Takata airbag,” they said, and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration “must accelerate the recall of these dangerous airbags to prevent yet another unnecessary and tragic death.”
If a loved one has been injured or killed by one of these Takata airbags, please contact Attorney Joe Saunders for a legal consultation.