Lawsuit charges companies knew of defect and hid problem from consumers
(PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla.) A Florida woman who sustained catastrophic injuries that rendered her a quadriplegic when the driver’s side airbag in her Honda Civic forcefully exploded during a minor motor vehicle collision yesterday filed a lawsuit against Honda Motor Company and airbag system manufacturer Takata Corporation. Brought on behalf of Patricia Mincey, the lawsuit charges that the companies concealed the defective nature of their airbag systems–including potential overpowered deployment–from consumers for more than a decade prior to the woman’s June 2014 accident.
According to the lawsuit filed in the Circuit Court of the Fourth District, Duval County, Fla., both Honda and Takata, along with several of their subsidiary companies, were aware of the grave safety dangers associated with the defective airbags through consumer complaints, claims, and lawsuits. In fact, over the past 13 years at least five deaths and 139 injuries have been attributed to defective Takata airbags in Honda vehicles.
Despite this, Honda and Takata executives allegedly concealed the full extent of the defect from consumers and implemented a strategy to quickly settle claims and lawsuits, rather than fully inform the public of the airbag defect. Furthermore, the lawsuit charges that the Honda and Takata defendants violated the law by failing to report, under reporting, or omitting important report information regarding the defect to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).
For example, according to published reports cited in the lawsuit, after a Takata airbag exploded in a Honda vehicle in 2004, the Takata defendants conducted a series of “secret” airbag tests to determine a cause of the airbag explosion and detected a potential component defect. Their engineers began designing a fix in preparation for a recall, but instead of alerting NHTSA, “Takata executives discounted the results and ordered the lab technicians to delete the testing data from their computers and dispose of the [defective components] in the trash,” according to the lawsuit.
On June 19, 2014, under the guise of a “Safety Improvement Campaign,” Honda issued a recall for vehicles in Florida and California that were fitted with Takata airbags that might excessively deploy. This recall was implemented just four days after Mincey’s motor vehicle collision in Jacksonville, Fla. Due to excessive pressurization, the Takata airbag in her Honda Civic exploded with such force that Mincey sustained catastrophic spinal cord and other injuries that left her a quadriplegic.
“This litigation takes Honda and Takata to task for their egregious disregard for consumer safety. The companies were aware for more than a decade that these airbags had the potential to violently explode and seriously injure or even kill occupants, yet they failed to take responsibility for producing and installing a safe product and/or recalling the defective airbags. Even in the June 2014 recall, Honda downplayed the situation by using the term ‘energetic’ airbag deployment to describe the very defect that catastrophically and permanently injured Patricia Mincey,” said Theodore J. Leopold, of Cohen Milstein Sellers & Toll PLLC, who represents Mincey against Honda Motor Corporation, Takata Corporation, and others.
The June 2014 Honda recall, which cited Florida’s humidity as a problem that could produce excessive internal airbag pressure, included Mincey’s vehicle. However, as Mincey’s accident had already occurred, the recall failed to timely alert her about the defective nature of the airbag system installed in her vehicle.
On Oct. 22, 2014, the NHTSA expanded the list of vehicles affected by the recall of defective Takata airbag components to cover 10 automakers and 8 million vehicles. More than 5 million of those are Honda vehicles. On Jan. 8, 2015, NHTSA fined Honda an unprecedented $70 million for failing to report 1,729 death and injury claims tied to their vehicles between 2003 and 2014, including many involving defective airbags.
“Product liability cases like this one often unveil a pattern of defrauding consumers in order to protect manufacturer profits,” said Leopold. “Sadly, a massive human cost, such as that sustained by Patricia Mincey and her family, is often paid before a recall is issued. The only way to hold automotive companies accountable is through aggressive litigation and we intend to do just that with this case.”
As a direct result of the excessive airbag deployment, Mincey sustained permanent catastrophic injuries resulting in quadriplegia, pain and suffering, disability, disfigurement, mental anguish and loss of the capacity for the enjoyment of life. On her behalf, Leopold is demanding a jury trial and a judgment awarding compensatory damages against the Honda and Takata defendants, including the expense of Mincey’s hospitalization, medical and nursing care, loss of earnings and ability to earn a living. And, given the egregious nature of the Honda and Takata defendants’ actions in concealing the airbag defect, Leopold intends to seek leave of court to add a claim for punitive damages, as is required under Florida law.
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