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Eric T. Chaffin
Eric T. Chaffin
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Plaintiffs Push for Independent Testing of Takata Air Bags

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For the longest time, everyone left it up to Takata to figure out just why some of its air bags were exploding upon deployment, shooting shrapnel into the vehicle and injuring and even killing some occupants. The company has conducted internal testing, but so far has failed to come up with a definite reason why the air bags are malfunctioning. They have suggested that a manufacturing issue combined with high humidity levels in some locales increase risk of explosions.

Last fall, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) urged a nationwide recall on all driver’s side Takata air bags, but the manufacturer refused to broaden its previous recalls. Automakers were left to pick up the slack, and many, including Honda and Toyota, have expanded their recalls to include all 50 states and other areas worldwide. Honda announced that it would be conducting a global “investigative” recall, with the intention of testing the air bags themselves in the hopes of discovering the cause of the malfunction.

Now, according to Automotive News, plaintiffs and Takata are quibbling over recalled inflators that propel the air bags. Takata air bag lawsuit attorneys want access to these inflators so they can conduct independent tests on them.

Takata refused to supply the inflators, however, choosing instead to store them for its own testing. It has promised to share the results with automakers.

Is It Wise to Allow Only Takata and Automakers to Test Air Bags?

Automakers have already taken things into their own hands. Just a few weeks ago, a group of ten of them, led by Toyota, announced they were hiring an independent engineering firm to look into the air bags, in the hopes of determining exactly what is causing the explosions.

Takata has stated that it supports the automakers’ investigation, and that it continues to conduct its own studies on the air bags to get to the root cause of the issue. The company is reportedly testing about 300 inflators a day.

Despite all this testing going on, some lawmakers are questioning the wisdom of allowing Takata and automakers—both of whom are losing millions of dollars because of air bag problems—to be the only entities studying the air bags. Congressman Edward Markey (D-Mass.), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), and Bill Nelson (D-Fla.) stated in a January 30, 2015 letter to the head of the NHTSA that the arrangement is akin to the fox guarding the henhouse.

Plaintiffs Continue to Push for Independent Testing

Plaintiffs, meanwhile, are left without any concrete answers, and further, without access to the materials that may give them the answers they seek. Independent investigation into potentially defective auto parts has provided key evidence in other similar cases, including the GM ignition switch lawsuits.

Turning to the salvage yards hasn’t helped plaintiffs either. Just recently, the Automotive Recyclers Association (ARA) filed a class action against Takata and a number of automakers for failing to warn them of the reduced value of potentially defective air bags. Members of the association have been advised to hold onto the inflators for evidence, cutting off what could have been a potential supply source for plantiffs’ lawyers.

Meanwhile, plaintiffs continue to push for independent testing, planning to petition the MDL court to set aside at least 10 percent of all recalled inflators for outside testing. To date, neither Takata nor any automaker has been able to clearly identify what exactly has caused certain air bags to explode.