Everything You Need to Know about Defective Airbag Injuries and Airbag Recall

Reviewed by Louis Patino, JD, DC

Louis Patino, JD, DC
A former U.S. Army Combat Medic, Dr. Louis Patino is a distinguished attorney recognised by Top Attorneys of America, Expertise, and the American Institute of Trial Lawyers. He has a Doctor of Jurisprudence from Texas Southern University and a Doctor of Chiropractic from Parker College of Chiropractic.

Airbag manufacturer Takata may no longer be in business, but its name has gone down in automotive history. In 2013, several automakers began recalls of vehicles due to faulty airbags, marking the advent of the largest automotive recall in U.S. history.

In 2020, the bankrupt airbag manufacturer announced a recall of 100 million more of its potentially defective front airbag inflators worldwide and 10 million in the U.S. alone, believed to be the last batch of affected products.  

At that time, around 15.9 million recalled inflators remained unrepaired. But what is most tragic is that the saga is far from over, with accidents still being reported.

If you’ve been injured by a faulty airbag or any other auto defect, you might be entitled to compensation. Book a free, no-obligation case review with our skilled product liability lawyer to learn your rights and options.

What Caused Takata Airbags to Be Defective?

Takata’s initial recall stemmed from a design defect in the front airbag inflators that had proven potentially deadly. Ammonium nitrate, a commonly used component in explosives and fertilizers, inflates airbags upon impact by releasing nitrous oxide and water vapor. This gas creates a small, controlled explosion, causing the bag to expand.

The defect in Takata airbags arose due to the ammonium nitrate deteriorating in high temperatures or humidity, causing a premature explosion capable of tearing apart the metal cylinder. The significant pressure, designed only to expand the airbag, propelled the torn metal toward the driver, leading to shrapnel penetrating flesh or cutting the skin.

Since 2009, Takata airbag ruptures have injured approximately 400 people in the U.S. At least 26 of those have suffered fatal injuries due to defective Takata airbags exploding.

Are Defective Takata Airbags Still Causing Injuries?

In 2022, American Honda confirmed that a defective Takata airbag inflator rupture killed a driver, marking the 17th death from ruptures in U.S. Hondas alone.

Despite the potential for millions of Takata inflators to be affected, many have not been repaired, and a recent report indicated that a separate issue could impact many more vehicle owners.

In November 2023, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) informed German manufacturer BMW that a Takata airbag ruptured in a 2014 X3 SUV the month before. According to the complaint, the explosion propelled a gold-colored disc into the driver’s lung. The driver required surgery to remove the metal and also sustained chest and shoulder cuts from suspected shrapnel.

While the automaker claims it is still investigating the potential cause, documents say that the inflators have a moisture-absorbing chemical called a desiccant. Notably, this was not the same auto defect flagged in previous recalls.

It is not the first time concerns over Takata airbags with a desiccant have been raised, either. A previous NHTSA investigation covered more than 30 million inflators in over 200 models from 20 car and truck manufacturers, including Honda, General Motors, Ford, Tesla, BMW, Toyota, Jaguar Land Rover, Mercedes Benz, Ferrari, McLaren, and Mazda. However, the agency ultimately decided it would monitor the situation but not issue a recall.

The October 2023 explosion has prompted BMW to recall a small number of SUVs (approximately 486) in the U.S. equipped with the potentially defective component, citing the potential for the inflators to blow apart in a crash, “hurling metal shrapnel and possibly injuring or killing people in the vehicles.”

BMW plans to notify owners whose vehicles may be affected in January 2024.

Sadly, Takata isn’t an isolated case, with a new defective airbag recall potentially on the horizon. While the numbers are not poised to rival the record-breaking numbers set by the former Japanese manufacturer, it could take the unenviable title of the second-largest recall in automotive history.

ARC and Delphi Airbag Fault Leads to Recall of 52 Million Airbags

On October 5th, 2023, the NHTSA scheduled a public meeting to move toward a recall of approximately 52 million airbag inflators susceptible to rupture — 42 million manufactured by ARC Automotive and 11 million manufactured by Delphi Automotive Systems (using a design licensed by ARC).

The unsafe inflators were said to be used by 12 carmakers over an eight-year period — from 2000 to 2018 — including major players BMW, Ford, Hyundai, Maserati, Porsche, and Volkswagen.

The safety agency’s investigation into ARC’s airbags resulted in a manufacturing defect that meant welding material known as weld slag could lodge inside an airbag’s metal cylinder. When the airbag is deployed, the weld slag can clog the gas flow, causing a pressure build-up. This build-up can trigger an explosion, blasting shards of metal and plastic into a vehicle’s interior — and potentially at drivers and passengers.

In one rupture incident in 2017, a driver sustained severe facial injuries.

ARC has denied claims that a defect existed and declined to recall the millions of airbags that could be affected, but with seven people injured, one individual killed, and several class-action lawsuits in progress, the NHTSA may be forced to take action.

While the odds of a Takata, ARC, or Delphi defect affecting you are slim — the NHTSA estimates that the risk of an ARC airbag rupture occurring during future crashes is one in 370,000 — the reality is that motorists may be unwittingly driving a ticking time bomb. Worse still, a driver can follow traffic laws and take precautions on the road only to be struck by a reckless or negligent motorist, which could trigger a devastating — if not fatal — rupture.

We rely on our cars to operate safely — from the lights and the engine to the brakes and the airbags.

A defect can occur during the design, production, or sales process, and if it causes an injury — for example, an airbag explodes due to a manufacturing flaw, causing shrapnel injuries that require surgery — you might be entitled to file a claim and recover compensation for your injuries and expenses.

But first, you must determine the type of fault.

 There are three main types of product defects:

Design defects: A fundamental flaw in a product’s design, often introduced at the beginning of its lifecycle. The Takata airbag ruptures are an example, with a design flaw rendering airbags unsafe in hot and humid conditions.

Manufacturing defects: A flaw in the product’s manufacture impacting safety — such as excessive weld slag in ARC and Delphi airbags.

A failure to warn or marketing defect: These stem from inadequate or missing warnings or instructions on using a product safely. The product need not have a physical defect.

Who Is Liable for a Defective Product?

When you purchase and use any product, there is a chain of responsibility from the point of manufacture to its purchase and use. If the product is defective and causes damage to property or injury, it means a failure to provide a safe product occurred at some point along the chain. Before the injured victim can initiate legal action to recover damages, they must determine liability.

Products are rarely manufactured and sent immediately to a customer. Products made outside of the U.S. must be imported. Wholesalers, delivery companies, marketers, retailers, and installers may also come into contact with a product. 

Generally, it is challenging to allege that these service providers are liable unless, for example, they continue to distribute and sell a product known to be defective. One of these other parties in the chain can also be negligent if they demonstrate a lack of care — such as improperly storing or handling a product — and it causes a defect.

People who purchase or use products also have a responsibility that can affect liability. They must read instructions carefully, unpack a product safely, and use it as intended. For example, if an individual purchases an electrical device overseas and brings it back home, they must use a transformer. Otherwise, the voltage difference could affect the function of the device.

Liability for a Faulty Airbag

Unlike with a coffee machine, a folding chair, or a flat iron, you won’t order an airbag online, unpack it, read the instructions, and install it in your vehicle, so you do not have a responsibility in this sense. However, you must not tamper or alter your airbags.

Several parties come into contact with airbags before they are installed in your vehicle and can be liable if there is a defect. These include:

  • The airbag manufacturer
  • The auto manufacturer
  • The airbag designer
  • The airbag installer or tester
  • The product distributor.

The party liable for an airbag fault depends on the nature of the defect. Airbags can fail for several reasons:

  • A hole, tear, or rip in the airbag.
  • A flaw in the design or manufacturing of the airbag causing it not to work correctly (as we have seen with the Takata airbag recall).
  • A failure to replace an airbag in an older vehicle after previously deploying.
  • The sensor malfunctions, causing the airbag to fail to deploy on impact.
  • Poor or faulty wiring.

For example, an airbag manufacturer may be liable if an error in the manufacturing process shoots metal fragments when the airbag deploys, causing catastrophic injuries.

The company responsible for testing that the airbag performed as intended (whether the airbag manufacturer or an external organization) might be liable if it failed to conduct proper testing or released airbags to the public despite knowledge of a defect.

A distributor might be liable for carelessly transporting or storing an airbag if it resulted in a micro tear or hole that triggered an accident once installed.

Airbag defect claims are complex, and liability is hard to prove, so it is vital to consult a product liability lawyer if you are injured in an accident.

What to Do If You or a Family Member Are Injured by a Defective Product

Your first step after being injured by a faulty product, such as an airbag, is to seek medical attention and tend to your injuries. This creates a valuable record of your injuries that can help you secure compensation, but more than anything, it allows you to begin treatment as early as possible to maximize your chance of recovery.

Your next step should be to make an appointment with an experienced defective product attorney. They can assess your case and whether you have a claim, determine who might be liable, and begin to gather evidence and build a case to secure the fair compensation you deserve.

Contact Our Texas Airbag Recall and Product Liability Accident Lawyer

If you or a loved one have been injured by a defective product, whatever the circumstances, contact our San Antonio and McAllen personal injury lawyer today. We offer a free, no-obligation case review, and you won’t pay until we win. Call 855-LAW NINJA or submit a confidential contact form today.

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