When you buy a used car, you may factor in a few needed maintenance repairs into the cost. However, you don’t expect that the very device intended to save your life could actually maim or kill you.
However, a recent crash in Nevada highlighted an unfortunate hole in the efforts of the government to remove dangerous exploding airbag inflators made by Takata off the road. Specifically, there is nothing in the law that requires these devices be removed from wrecked cars and then reinstalled into new ones.
In the Nevada case, an 18-year-old woman’s trachea was punctured when shrapnel came spewing at her from her airbag when she crashed in Las Vegas. The collision was deemed relatively minor. The greatest threat to the driver was the airbag – the very contraption designed to save her life in the event of a serious crash. She nearly died, but survived and is still recovering. Surgeons had to remove several pieces that severely damaged her vocal cords.
Her name has since been added to the 200 individuals who were injured or killed by the devices, which are known to combust due to a chemical reaction inside the bags that can degrade.
However, what is different about her case is that there was basically no way she could have known that she was driving around with a virtual ticking time bomb in her Honda Accord. According to The New York Times, the girl’s father reportedly bought the car last year so his daughter could travel back-and-forth to her customer service job. However, the family didn’t know the vehicle was involved in a car accident in another part of the state. In fact, it had been declared by an auto insurance company to be a “total loss.”
The car was reportedly given a “salvage title,” at which point it was repaired and resold.
After the Las Vegas crash, engineers with the company traced the serial number of the damaged bag and discovered it was actually covered by an earlier recall of the airbags. However, it was never actually identified because it was in a vehicle that wasn’t listed as having bags from that lot installed. It is believed the airbag in the 2001 model totaled vehicle was either taken from a salvage yard – maybe even stolen – and then installed in the 2002 model the Las Vegas woman was driving.
As the Times reports, this kind of transaction is totally legal, and there isn’t any government agency that monitors it. Various bits and parts may be salvaged from recalled cars or defective vehicle parts, and no one is watching or needs to report it. There are also no state laws that prevent the reuse of auto parts that have been recalled.
As noted by the director of the Center for Auto Safety, this leaves a giant regulatory hole. At minimum, there should be a program that prevents old air bags from being recycled. Unfortunately, it is unclear just how many of these “salvage title” cars there are, but Carfax believes there could easily be thousands sold each year.
It is estimated that at least 16 people have died in crashes as a result of faulty airbag inflators. Another 180 have been injured. Those are only the cases about which we know. In all, nearly 70 million have been recalled in the U.S., and more than 100 million have been recalled worldwide.
Takata, a Japanese company and the world’s largest supplier of air bags, has been repeatedly fined, faces a slew of personal injury and wrongful death lawsuits and may potentially be driven into bankruptcy.
A personal injury attorney representing the young woman who survived the crash in Las Vegas noted there could be millions of inflators still unaccounted for by unsuspecting drivers and regulators.
The fact of the matter is, people are not learning until far too late that there is a safety concern with their vehicle. The inflator found in this vehicle was of the most dangerous, as testing has shown that those airbags installed in older-model Honda vehicles have a 50 percent chance of exploding.
That has prompted repeated pleas from both the manufacturer and federal regulators to customers to have them replaced. Unfortunately, response rates for recalls are historically abysmal.
The fact that these devices have been recalled does not absolve the product designer, manufacturer or distributor of liability.
Call Freeman Injury Law — 1-800-561-7777 for a free appointment to discuss your rights. Now serving Orlando, West Palm Beach, Port St. Lucie and Fort Lauderdale.
How Dangerous Air Bags Can Find Their Way Into Used Cars, April 19, 2017, Associated Press
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