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Victims of Defective Takata Airbag Deployments Suffer Knife-Like Injuries

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Imagine coming upon a car accident in which the driver looks as if he or she has been stabbed or shot in the face.

That’s what some victims of defective Takata airbag deployments looked like, according to police. Both Hai Ming Xu (in California) and Hien Thi Tran (in Florida), who were fatally wounded when their Takata airbags exploded, were thought to have suffered from violent attacks because their wounds were so severe.

Instead, they were apparently hit by exploding shrapnel from the airbags when they deployed improperly. Police were so sure in Tran’s case that she had been attacked that they had even found a person of interest during the initial investigation. The autopsy report revealed the reason for her death—her neck had been cut with metal and plastic fragments from the airbag.

On November 18, 2014, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) ordered a nationwide recall of all vehicles with driver’s side airbags.

Serious Injuries from Takata Airbags

In addition to causing at least five deaths, Takata airbags have also been linked to a number of injuries. Some victims were hit in the eyes with the shrapnel, suffering permanent damage to their vision. Air Force Lt. Stephanie Erdman was one of these. When she was in a car accident, she was hit in the eye with a piece of shrapnel, which also fractured her nasal bone. She is now blinded in one eye.

Others suffered from serious cuts and lacerations, but survived. Kristy Williams, who was hit when her airbag deployed in her Honda Civic in 2001, was able to stop the bleeding, but still suffers from traumatic brain injury.

Plaintiffs Claim Company Failed to Warn About Risks

Plaintiffs who have filed Takata airbag lawsuits claim the company was much too slow in addressing this serious safety issue. According to CBS News, Erdman testified at the Congressional hearing regarding the airbag recalls that took place November 20, 2014. She stated that both Takata and Honda failed to provide adequate warnings about the defect. She added that despite going through a number of corrective surgeries, she will never be the same after her accident.

The New York Times reported in November 2014 that Takata actually conducted tests on its airbags about a decade ago. When they found a potential defect, they failed to warn federal safety regulators, car dealerships, or consumers, and instead directed employees to get rid of the data.

During the Congressional hearing, Takata senior vice president Hiroshi Shimizu was hesitant to take full responsibility for the five deaths so far linked to the airbag. A representative from Honda, on the other hand, gave Erdman an apology, and admitted that his company had failed to adequately alert car owners of the serious risks.

NHTSA Actions Questioned As Well

The NHTSA is also under scrutiny for failing to act earlier to get these vehicles recalled. At the hearing, some questioned whether the administration had the “resources and the expertise necessary to address potential safety problems in a timely manner,” according to CBS.

The administration released a consumer advisory on October 22, 2014, urging car owners to “act immediately on recall notices to replace defective Takata airbags.”