The recall of vehicles due to potentially dangerous airbag inflators shows no signs of slowing down. More than 29 million cars, trucks and SUVs have already been recalled, and a number of lawmakers have called for all vehicles in Washington and around the country equipped with airbags manufactured by Takata to be included. These calls grew louder on Feb. 23 when a Senate committee indicated that the Japanese auto parts manufacturer may have known about and concealed the problem.
The faulty airbag inflators have been linked with accidents that caused 10 deaths and more than 100 injuries. Automakers say that a combination of poor design and lax manufacturing processes caused the fault, which can lead to airbags exploding and showering vehicle occupants with metal fragments and other debris. It was initially thought that only vehicles in hot and humid parts of the country were affected, but the recalls were subsequently expanded.
According to documents released by a Senate committee, Takata’s internal documents show that the results of tests designed to measure quality and safety may have been manipulated to conceal the fault. The documents also reveal that some members of Takata’s management team urged the company to take a more proactive approach. If NHTSA decides to follow the wishes of lawmakers, up to 90 million additional vehicles may be recalled.
Manufacturers may face severe criminal and civil sanctions when they endanger consumers by concealing flaws in their products. Federal fines can quickly reach eight or nine figures when the defective products involved have sold in the millions, and misbehaving manufacturers may also face large numbers of personal injury lawsuits filed on behalf of injured consumers. Attorneys with experience in this area could assess the merits of potential product liability cases and explain the steps involved in seeking civil remedies.