Officials with the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA) have announced an expansion of what is already the largest automotive recall in history, adding some 5 million vehicles registered nationwide those affected by defective Takata airbag inflators. Prompted in part by the death of the driver of a 2006 Ford Ranger last month in South Carolina, the expansion brings the recall to a massive 28 million inflators installed in 24 million vehicles.
The recalled products use ammonium nitrate to create a minor explosion that inflates the airbags upon collision. But the chemical can deteriorate under prolonged exposure to airborne moisture, causing it to burn too fast and blow apart the metal canister designed to contain the explosion. This can cause metal shrapnel to fly into the vehicle’s cabin, inflicting stab-like wounds in drivers and passengers.
Documents filed by an attorney representing the victim’s family claim, based on an autopsy report and death certificate, that a metal piece from the inflator canister penetrated the driver’s neck once the airbag deployed. The death marks the ninth in the United States and the 10th worldwide confirmed to have been caused by the defect. Safety officials say many of the reported deaths and injuries have involved low-speed crashes that otherwise likely would have been survivable. At highest risk are drivers and passengers of vehicles driven regularly in high-humidity areas, including here in Florida.
Though particular models affected in the latest recall are still to be determined, automakers involved include Volkswagen, Audi and Mercedes-Benz among others. Takata already has been hit with a $70 million fine for delays in disclosing the safety defect and will face another $130 million penalty if it fails to fulfil terms of a consent order handed down in November.
“The agency is using all the tools available to clean up this mess as quickly and safely as possible,” NHTSA Spokesman Gordon Trowbridge said. “We know that challenge is likely to get significantly bigger. It is daunting.”
If you know or suspect that your vehicle is affected by the recall, we at Harrell and Harrell urge you to take the issue seriously and have your car or truck repaired. If you are injured or lose a loved one in an accident that you believe involved a defective Takata airbag, call 800-251-1111 to speak with an experienced product liability or auto accident attorney today.