Earlier today, the U.S. Department of Transportation’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) issued the largest civil penalty in its history against Takata, maker of defective air bag inflators responsible for seven deaths and nearly 100 injuries. The penalty includes a $70 million fine due immediately, and an additional $130 million fine if they do not increase their recall process and comply with additional oversight orders.
The defective airbags can rupture, shooting small metal fragments which act like shrapnel. Seven deaths and at least 139 injuries have been attributed to the airbags. The problem has been traced to the inflator device, which uses compressed ammonium nitrate gas. Takata issued the first recall for the defective products in 2008, but the New York Times reported the company was aware of the defect since 2004. The problem now affects over 34 million vehicles, making it the largest auto recall in history.
This penalty was issued after Takata failed to notify the NHTSA of the defective airbags while providing inaccurate information to the agency and auto-makers. After denying a problem existed for years, Takata finally admitted there was a safety issue with the ammonium nitrate inflators and that they failed to notify the NHTSA within the required five-day period.
In addition to the $70 million they are being fined up-front, Takata is facing $60 million in fines if they fail to recall the defective air bag inflators by Dec. 31, 2018. They face an additional $70 million in penalties if they are caught violating any safety regulations in the future, including continued use of ammonium nitrate inflators.The orders also include demands for “safety culture” improvements, and appointment of a third-party monitor to assess Takata’scompliance to safety regulations.
These orders are unprecedented, not just in terms of dollar amount, but as an exercise of the NHTSA’s authority to regulate the auto industry. In a statement to the press, the agency explained its authority to accelerate recalls for vehicle manufacturers under TREAD act, passed in 2000. If there is a risk of death or serious injury, the agency is given the power for remedial intervention.
Have you suffered an injury from a defective Takata airbag? You may be entitled to compensation. The experienced product liability attorneys at Peterson & Associates, P.C.™are prepared to help you. Contact us today for a free consultation.