Eric Chaffin, personal injury attorney and founding partner of Chaffin Luhana recently appeared on CBS Local’s The Sunday Business Page in Pittsburgh to help explain the unprecedented product recalls over Takata airbags.
In addition to delving into Takata’s cover-up of the safety issue, Chaffin talked about the very serious injuries that can result from accidents involving the defective Takata airbags, and what consumers can do to recover damages in court.
Takata Pleads Guilty to Fraud
As part of a deal with the Attorney General’s Office, Takata recently pled guilty to one criminal charge of fraud and agreed to pay $1 billion in fines and restitution for concealing problems with their airbags for years.
Chaffin noted that approximately $125 million of those funds will go toward restitution for consumers. Another $850 million is earmarked to go to auto manufacturers, who are also victims to some degree as they have had to help with the Takata airbag recall, the largest ever in U.S. history.
Takata airbags have been linked to 16 deaths worldwide and hundreds of injuries. Upon deployment, instead of protecting drivers and passengers as they are intended to do, they can explode, forcing shrapnel into the interior of the vehicle at high speeds. Occupants suffer knife-like wounds, excessive bleeding, and sometimes death.
Takata Knew the Airbag Problem Existed and Tried to Conceal It
Court documents from Takata airbag lawsuits included emails exchanged between company executives revealing a purposeful effort to manipulate airbag test data to cover up potential safety issues. Andrew Weissman, Chief of the Justice Department’s fraud section, said in a statement that Takata had repeatedly falsified test data related to the safety of its airbags, “putting profits and production schedules ahead of safety.”
When asked how something like this could happen in today’s age of “safety first” in automobiles, Chaffin expressed amazement, particularly since Takata is a safety equipment company, and in the business of improving safety for consumers. Yet their products have actually made many vehicles less safe.
Meanwhile, they knew the problem existed, yet they covered it up. “They’re actually going out and covering up to the auto manufacturers as well as to safety administrators what’s going on with the testing of these products,” Chaffin said.
The motivation behind this cover-up? Pure profit. “It’s all profit-driven,” Chaffin mentioned, adding that because the company had so many products on the market, they hesitated to reveal any issues, for fear of ending up with a multi-billion dollar problem. Indeed, the cover-up went all the way to the very highest levels of company management. A federal grand jury has now indicted three former Takata employees on charges of wire fraud and conspiracy.
“That’s one of the most reprehensible parts of this that the Justice Department is going after,” Chaffin said.
Consumers Suffering High-Impact Injuries Due to Defective Takata Airbags
Though the shrapnel injuries are the worst in terms of death cases, the most prevalent injuries from airbag accidents are high-impact injuries.
“The ones we’re seeing that are more prevalent now,” Chaffin said, “are where it’s just a really high impact injury from the airbags. It’s like getting hit by an NFL linebacker or worse in the face, blunt-force, in a fairly small impact case. That type of injury across a spectrum of individuals is what we’re seeing.”
Consumers who have suffered injuries from Takata airbags can visit this page for more information on how to secure representation. He added that many consumers may still be unaware of airbag recalls that are active on their vehicles. He suggested consumers check their VINs online to see if they need an airbag repair.
“If you’re somebody who has a car sitting at home and you haven’t received a recall notice, and it’s likely that you haven’t if you’re a second or third buyer of the car, you should go to our website, go to the government site, and actually look and see.”