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Ticking time bombs: An update on expanding air bag recalls

When you purchase a used vehicle, a Carfax report will tell you if the vehicle was in a wreck. But what it won't tell you is whether the car has a Takata air bag.

Some of the trustiest Honda Accords and Civics from the early 2000's came equipped with these airbags. Last year, a low-speed collision turned tragic when an air bag exploded sending shards of metal flying. The driver sustained a serious neck wound and died from blood loss. A passenger and a dog in the backseat were fine.

In a recent report, Bloomberg detailed failures across the company that allowed dangerous products to go out the door. What started as a small recall of 4,000 Hondas in 2008 has since expanded 20 times. In the U.S., more than 60 million vehicles are affected including models manufactured by Toyota, Ford and 14 others.

Why are the air bags dangerous?

Air bags must be small and light to fit into a steering wheel, but deliver the proper force in an accident. Original chemical formulas were based on ones that the military used to launch torpedoes and missiles. Over the years, companies have looked for alternatives.

Takata settled on a chemical tablet made of ammonium nitrate. Unfortunately, temperature change can break the tablet down into a powder that deploys too aggressively. An explosion can blow apart the chemical's metal container and send shrapnel flying.

A drying agent can fix the issue. Takata has until 2019 to replace air bags and prove that air bags with the drying agent are safe. A concerning June 1 Senate report noted that four manufacturers continued to sell new vehicles with the air bags.

Which vehicles are most at risk?

It takes time for the propellant to break down, so the vehicles most at risk are those that have been on the road for many years. The owners of these vehicles are often harder to locate, because used car dealers are not required to keep track of recalls. Honda has used stadium billboards, social media and private investigators to track down owners of its older vehicles.

Air bags come in a variety of shapes and sizes, which complicates the recall. In addition, there are not enough replacement inflator parts currently available.

Remedies against a negligent manufacturer

Why would a manufacturer continue to sell a flawed product? It is usually the bottom line. In this case, the extent of the issues has only come out slowly, which may indicate they were covered up or downplayed by the manufacturer.

If you or a loved one is injured by an air bag, what remedies are available? A products liability suit can hold a negligent manufacturer responsible.

At Weisfuse & Weisfuse, LLP, our attorneys have more than 30 years experience handling defective product claims. We have represented those injured by exploding tire rims, defective meat grinders and other unsafe products. During a free consultation, we will explain how we may be able to assist you.

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