At least 139 people have been injured as a result of shrapnel shot out from defective Takata airbags. And, millions of vehicles are now on NHTSA’s recall list because of the Takata airbag recall. Honda had to recall 5.1 million vehicles equipped with Takata airbags. Takata did not first issue a recall of its airbags until 2008, and the recalls have continued to trickle on through this year. However, as the New York Times reported earlier this month, Takata engineers tested airbags in 2004 and discovered that they could rupture and shoot deadly shrapnel into drivers’ upper bodies.
The manufacturing lobbyists who spend millions to convince politicians and the public that tort reform is a good idea would have us all believe that good corporate citizens like Takata do not need to be regulated or subjected to states’ product liability laws. So let’s test their theory and look at what Taketa did in 2004 with the information discovered by its engineers. Taketa engineers tested 50 airbags, and found that 4% of them had cracked steel inflators, a condition that can lead to rupture and the discharge of shrapnel. Taketa engineers were so alarmed by this finding that they began designing possible fixes in preparation for a recall. However, instead of alerting federal safety regulators to the possible danger, Taketa executives ordered its engineers to erase the testing data from their computers and dispose of the airbag inflators in the trash. The former Taketa employer who blew the whistle on this reckless company said that the secret tests were performed after normal work hours and on weekends and holidays at Takata’s U.S. headquarters in Michigan.
The secret 2004 tests were four years before Takata said in regulatory filings that it first tested the problematic airbags. Our founding fathers foresaw the solution to this kind of behavior and put it in the Constitution in the form of the Seventh Amendment. What better way to make sure that a company is held responsible for such dastardly behavior than by presenting the facts to a jury of its peers? A company that makes equipment that affects the lives and health of people should not be afraid to have a group of citizens judge the company’s behavior regarding safety issues. If the company is afraid to have its behavior made public, it probably needs to change its behavior. GM (ignition switch cover up) and Taketa are perfect examples of how fear of being held responsible by means of the U.S. court system appears to have been the motivating factor for them to finally admit the truth about design defects that they had previously tried to cover up. Any system which replaces the Seventh Amendment right to trial by jury with an alternative system envisioned by the tort reform crowd would simply provide cover to bad actors like Taketa to continue to hide the truth from the American consumer. The result would be more death and carnage due to preventable malfunctions.