Surprise Settlement in Florida Air Bag Liability Lawsuit

A Florida product liability lawsuit alleging faulty airbags leading to a fatal car accident slated for trial in the fall when attorneys announced a surprise confidential settlement agreement. airbagdeployed

The case centers on allegedly defective Takata airbags, which are reported to have played a role in at least 10 deaths and more than 100 injuries when they improperly inflate and spew metal debris into the faces and necks of front seat occupants.

Vehicles made by 14 different automakers were recalled in what the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has called the biggest and most complex recalls to date. Most of the bags were installed in vehicles from 2002 through 2015. 

This case involved family members of a woman who died three months ago following a 2014 Florida car accident in which she was traveling in her 2001 Honda.

The settlement came just ahead of a hearing requested by plaintiffs’ attorney in which he was requesting permission to pursue punitive damages and also compel the testimony of embattled Takata president Shigehisa Takada. Had the court ordered it, it would have been the first time his testimony would have been required at deposition after millions of vehicles were recalled for the defective air bags.

Plaintiffs’ attorney said that frankly, he did not expect a settlement at that juncture. There were key issues that were still in dispute and he sought resolution on those issues. The settlement offer – which is confidential – was a surprise. Still, he said he believes all parties are “pleased.”

Although these defective airbags were manufactured in Japan, Florida has been a key battleground with regard to the product liability litigation. First of all, it is believed that heat triggers a chemical reaction in the airbags that results in the malfunction. That has meant Florida is the site of several of these accidents.

Further, Sen. Bill Nelson (D-FL) led the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation into investigating the defective inflators. The committee’s staff report revealed manipulation of the data by Takata, in addition to clear warning signs missed or overlooked by the company.

There were 34 million recalled in the U.S. plus 7 million recalled worldwide. That is expected to expand to 40 million by 2019.

In this case, decedent drove through a red light at about 30 miles per hour back in June 2014 and crashed into another vehicle that was traveling about 20 mph. At first, her Honda Civics airbags did not deploy. However, when it did deploy, it did so with such force that she suffered a broken neck and back. She was declared quadriplegic, paralyzed from the neck down. Her condition worsened over the next two years and she died at the age of 77 in a nursing home.

The airbag in her Honda Civic was recalled just two days after the crash.

Our Fort Lauderdale injury attorneys know that while the NHTSA fined Honda about $70 million due to improper reporting of injuries and deaths (some 1,729 cases in all), many others are just coming to light – and it’s not just Honda either. Takata is the largest manufacturer of airbags in the world.

It’s plausible that the reason this case was settled so quickly was that Takata attorneys wanted to avoid having their CEO testify. Attorneys for plaintiff say that although the case didn’t move far through the litigation process, the process did serve to “lift the veil” on certain issues, which could be valuable in future cases.

Additional Resources:

Sides reach surprise settlement in airbag death suit; Takata head avoids taking witness stand, July 15, 2016, By Dan Scanlan, The Florida Times-Union

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Widerhold v. Domino’s Pizza: $10M Verdict in Wrongful Death Lawsuit Holds Franchisor Liable, July 14, 2016, Fort Lauderdale Car Accident Attorney Blog