For more than two decades, it has been required that cars in the U.S. come with airbags. In the name of safety, airbags emerge rapidly when a crash occurs. While airbags have saved countless people, they are unfortunately not 100 percent safe when manufacturing defects are involved.
On Oct. 5, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) held a public meeting to discuss a possible recall of 52 million airbag inflators produced by ARC Automotive and Delphi Automotive Systems that could cause a potential risk. Agency officials have stressed the potential for the inflators to cause an explosion, resulting in pieces of metal hurling airborne inside the vehicle’s cabin, which could cause serious injury. The inflators, found in airbags made between 2000 and 2018, are used by several car manufacturers, including General Motors, Ford Motor, Tesla, Toyota Motor, Hyundai, Kia, Mercedes-Benz, BMW, and Volkswagen.
At the public meeting, victims and family members of victims shared their experiences, including the son of a woman who was killed in 2021.
Jacob Tarvis’ mother had been driving her 2015 Chevy Traverse when she collided with another vehicle. As a result of the crash, her vehicle’s airbag exploded. “The explosion was so forceful, it blew the steering wheel off, destroyed the steering column, and sent a fragmented, ragged piece of metal approximately 2 centimeters in diameter into the back of her neck,” Travis told officials. His mother died after being airlifted to a hospital.
The NHTSA began looking into the issue eight years ago after an inflator burst inside a 2002 Chrysler Town and Country and a 2004 Kia Optima. The agency has identified explosions caused by the inflators that occurred in at least seven crashes in the U.S. as well as one in Canada and another in Turkey, with two of the cases resulting in fatalities.
How Airbags Should Work
When a driver gets into a crash, an airbag inflates due to the impact, causing a chemical reaction to set off within the small inflator. Gases rush into the bag quickly, inflating it.
However, with airbags containing this type of malfunctioning inflator, there is potential for debris (left over from the manufacturing process) to gather within the inflator, causing it to lose the ability to inflate properly. Without the proper mechanism, the reacting gas does not engage properly, and when the gas lurches forward, the explosion occurs.
If an ARC/Delphi inflator recall happens, it would be one of the largest recalls in U.S. history. However, it would come after another major recall, the Takata airbag recall, which began in 2014. In Takata’s situation, the explosions were due to how chemicals break down in the inflators.
Earlier Request for an Airbag Recall
The public meeting came six months after the NHTSA asked ARC officials to voluntarily recall the inflators. In the announcement leading up to the meeting, the agency made an initial decision concerning the ARC inflators. It detailed how the inflator could become over-pressurized and rupture, “leading to the potential forced propulsion of shrapnel or metal fragments from the inflator into the passenger compartment.”
“Additional inflator ruptures are expected to occur in the future, risking more serious injuries and deaths, if they are not recalled and replaced,” the announcement said.
Although the NHTSA has been vocal about its concerns, no official recall by the manufacturers has been issued. However, the agency’s action led to General Motors recalling nearly one million vehicles made from 2014 to 2017. The automaker said it was taking the action “out of an abundance of caution.”
At the public meeting, according to news reports, an ARC executive did acknowledge the injuries and deaths were a “serious matter” but said neither the company nor any automaker who uses its assemblies “found a systemic defect across the 52 million inflators” identified by NHTSA.
Now that the public meeting has been held, the NHTSA may take legal action to force a mandatory recall. A final decision on how the NHTSA will respond is expected in December. In addition to this possible legal action, more than six class-action lawsuits have been filed against ARC (as well as several automakers and two airbag manufacturers using ARC inflators).
What To Do If Your Vehicle Has a Defective Airbag
Individuals who believe their vehicle may have a defective airbag can contact the manufacturer about their concerns and file a complaint with the NHTSA. Further, while the NHTSA is expected to take legal action shortly on this airbag matter, those injured due to a malfunctioning airbag should contact an attorney well-versed in product liability matters. A product liability lawyer can help determine whether the vehicle’s inflator was the cause and possible legal options to compensate for the injuries.
In cases concerning dangerous, life-threatening, exploding airbags, a product liability lawsuit is the best way to get justice and compensation for those harmed and the right thing to do for public safety. Manufacturers must be held responsible for any injuries caused by their products.
The Louisiana product liability attorneys at Herman Herman Katz have recovered billions of dollars against manufacturers who marketed and sold dangerous, defective, and harmful products. Contact us online or call (844) 943-7627 for more information or a free case consultation.
Jed Cain is a partner with Herman, Herman & Katz, LLC. He has dedicated his career to representing injured folks and their families.