The Japanese airbag manufacturer Takata reached a $1 billion settlement with the US Department of Justice over a sometimes fatal defect in its airbags that led to millions of vehicles being recalled in the US and internationally.
At least 16 people have died due to the airbag flaw, and 11 were in the US.
As part of the settlement, Takata agreed to plead guilty to wire fraud, which is a felony offense. Of the $1 billion total fine, $25 million is being paid to the US government, and $125 million will be used to compensate those who have been injured by Takata airbags. The remaining funds will be dispersed to automakers who were misled and defrauded by Takata; these companies have faced millions in extra costs to replace recalled airbag parts.
That is not all of the bad news for Takata: Three high level executives at the company were criminally indicted on wire fraud and conspiracy charges. Those three executives are Shinichi Tanaka, Hideo Nakajima and Tsuneo Chikaraishi.
DOJ contends that the three highly paid executives concealed deadly defects in the airbag inflator inside the airbags. DOJ stated that the three men sent emails where they referred to submitting phony reports of test data to automakers that were using the faulty airbags. They discussed this conspiracy even after the first news reports aired about airbag inflators that were injuring and killing people.
The inflator contains ammonimum nitrate. It can degrade over time from moisture or temperature changes. This can cause the cannister to explode in a crash, which can spray vehicle occupants with shrapnel.
Almost 70 million Takata airbag inflators have been affected in a huge US recall that started in 2008 and will continue through 2018. Personal injury lawsuits and wrongful death lawsuits also have been filed against Takata in some of the serious injury and death cases.
Our personal injury and defective and dangerous product law firm has tracked the Takata airbag recall from the start. Our Virginia and North Carolina attorneys have aided many victims of defective and dangerous products, so we are not suprised that this recall has gone on for so long. It is concerning to us that Takata took such reckless actions to conceal safety information and mislead automakers and the public. No other airbag manufacturer has a design that uses dangerous ammonium nitrate, and yet Takata chose to do so.
When any company produces a dangerous or defective product, it has a legal obligation to remove the dangerous product from the marketplace as soon as possible, and to compensate anyone who has been hurt. This is true for airbags, coffee carafes, riding lawn mowers, and any other defective product.