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How much did airbag maker Takata Corporation know about the defects that have since killed five people and injured many more?

Plaintiffs involved in Takata airbag lawsuits claim the company was aware of the problem as long as 13 years ago, but failed to take adequate steps to protect public safety. In June 2014, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) opened an investigation into the issue.

Drivers Injured and Killed with Little Response

The New York Times recently reported that even after an Alabama driver was injured in 2004 because of a defective airbag in his Honda, neither Honda nor Takata responded with a recall. Instead, they described the incident as an anomaly.

Several other incident reports detailed similar accidents. In 2009, for instance, a mail truck in Virginia hit a woman driving a Honda Accord. The woman’s air bag shot metal fragments into her neck and chest, causing fatal injuries. Her three children were in the car at the time.

Lawsuits were filed over incidents like these, but many have been settled confidentially, which only served to keep more people in the dark about the potential dangers. Honda didn’t issue its first safety recall related to Takata airbag defects until 2008, and then for only just over 4,000 cars. The total number of vehicles recalled to date is 14.3 million worldwide.

NHTSA Opens an Investigation Into Airbag Defects

In June 2014, the San Francisco Chronicle reported that that the NHTSA had opened an investigation in the airbag issue, looking into vehicles made by Honda, Mazda, Chrysler, Nissan, and Toyota, to see if recalls needed to be expanded.

They made this move after receiving reports of six bags rupturing and causing injuries. All of these incidences occurred in Florida and Puerto Rico. Takata later reported in a letter to the NHTSA that they believed climate humidity to play a part in the airbag malfunction.

Reports Indicate Takata Was Aware Years Ago

In October 2014, the Wall Street Journal reported that NHTSA had ordered Takata to produce more information related to the defect, including internal company emails and memos, as well as a list of every death, injury, and lawsuit related to the airbag problems.

A November report by Reuters noted that managers and workers at the Mexico Takata plant—one of the places where they make the inflators for these airbags—were concerned when they had to break quality rules to boost output. In 2012, at the same plant, workers put the wrong part into inflators, which later resulted in a recall affecting 350,000 vehicles.

According to a November report by Bloomberg, evidence presented in Takata airbag lawsuits showed that the company conducted tests revealing the airbag defect about ten years ago. Specifically, the tests allegedly showed that the steel canisters in the airbags contained cracks that could compromise structural integrity.

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