The death and injury toll stemming from faulty airbags manufactured by Japanese company Takata continues to rise. Currently, authorities have tallied 105 injuries and six deaths linked to the defective auto parts.
Some of those in the count occurred more than a decade ago, and are only now being recognized as likely connected.
The massive recall that was issued involved 17 million older model vehicles from 10 different auto makers, both in the U.S. and abroad.
One such example of a case where the pieces of the puzzle seem to be just now falling into place is the 12-year-old case of a special education teacher who died in a crash in Arizona. Her family recalled how, in the immediate aftermath of the wreck, the neurosurgeon who tried to save her life told them the severe wounds to her head did not seem to be from a typical car accident. The family suspected for all those years that the airbag might be the cause, but it would be a long time before Takata would concede a problem.
Even now, following many months of testing both by internal researchers at the company and by outside engineers, there is still no obvious answer as to why these airbags exploded with excessive force, resulting in metal shrapnel flying into the faces and upper bodies of passengers inside.
A former administrator for the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, whose been hired by auto makers to research the issue, concedes he doesn’t yet have answers, but says it could be more than one simple cause.
What’s more, there is concern about whether the replacement airbags are even safe. The fact is, they use the same chemical used to inflate the old bags, and it’s this chemical, some researchers believe, that could be the root problem to begin with. Other types of airbags use chemicals that aren’t quite so volatile, but they are a lot more expensive, so they aren’t as widely used.
Chemicals are the key to the way airbags work. Takata started using ammonium nitrate more than a dozen years ago because it was less costly than other similar chemicals. But it’s the same chemical used in certain bombs. Plus, if it’s heated to more than 100 degrees, it can become unstable. This is especially troublesome in Florida, where the inside of a vehicle in summertime can easily exceed temperatures of 140 degrees.
The airbag maker insists the new airbags are safe and that the new airbags use a less concentrated form of the previous chemical mixture. Safety advocates continue to be skeptical, especially because no one has been able to say exactly what the problem was in the first place.
These airbags comprise nearly 20 percent of the airbag market. That’s one in every five cars on the road.
Typically, the statute of limitations on some of these older cases would have expired. The time limit for personal injury cases is four years and for wrongful death is two years. However, it may be possible that time limit could be tolled if those affected could show they could not have reasonably known the cause of the extensive injuries until now.
It’s imperative for anyone who has been seriously injured in a crash or survivors of those killed to immediately seek legal counsel. Given the extensive number of auto manufacturer recalls and defective product claims against the industry in recent years, there may be more to the claim than initially meets the eye.
Call Fort Lauderdale Injury Attorney Richard Ansara at (954) 761-4011. Serving Broward, Miami-Dade and Palm Beach counties.
The unsolved mystery of the exploding air bags, April 27, 2015, By Brent Snavely, Detroit Free Press
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