When Airbags Kill: Understanding Automobile Product Liability Cases

No one who buys, leases, or rents a vehicle with an airbag does so expecting that the airbag—a device designed and intended to save lives—will kill them.

Unfortunately, that’s exactly what has happened in a series of wrongful death cases involving defective airbags in a wide range of vehicles. A hidden defect in an airbag took the life of at least one Southern California woman in 2001, but the airbags in question were not recalled by many automakers until 2009 or later. By 2016, the death toll had risen to 10, with over 100 people seriously injured.

What Happened?

The air bag cases have involved airbag parts manufactured by Japan’s Takata Corporation and used in vehicles made by both Japanese and American auto manufacturers. The allegedly defective parts included the accelerant canister used to inflate the airbag during a crash. Research has discovered that these canisters may overheat and explode, sending shrapnel flying through the cabin of the vehicle.  In some cases, the airbag could also fail to inflate properly, posing a serious risk of harm in an accident.

So far, the Takata airbag recall has affected millions of vehicles nationwide, in addition to causing serious injuries and deaths.

How Does Product Liability for Vehicles Work?

Typically, a product liability claim for any defective item, including a motor vehicle part, will fall into one of three categories:

  • Manufacturing Defects. These defects occur when the materials or manufacturing process used in the item are not sufficient to stand up to ordinary use. For instance, a bolt used to hold a vehicle frame together that was made of steel too soft to withstand the forces of driving would be a manufacturing defect.
  • Design Defects. These defects occur when a product or part is made of adequate materials, but is designed in an unreasonably dangerous way. For instance, making a steel clothing rack with sharp points on the ends of the bars might be seen as a design defect.
  • Warnings Defects. Some products cannot be made reasonably safe and still do their job: kitchen knives, for example. These products must come with warnings to alert users to the risks.

I’ve Been Injured by a Defective Vehicle Part, and There’s a Recall. Does That Matter?

Recalls may be issued by the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), or by auto manufacturers directly. Generally speaking, the owners of any recalled item (including a motor vehicle) have a responsibility to address the recall by having the item repaired or replaced. Vehicle recall repairs can be obtained for free at any licensed dealership once a recall has been issued.

However, even if a recall has been issued, you may be able to recover compensation if the notice was too broad, did not adequately inform you of the problem and what needed to be done, or was not issued appropriately.

If you’ve been injured by the airbag or by another hidden defect in a vehicle, don’t hesitate to contact an experienced California auto accident lawyer who can help you stand up to insurance companies and the auto industry in order to get the compensation you deserve.  Contact J&Y Law today for a free consultation.