On the heels of one of the most massive automobile recalls ever, the world's second largest supplier of airbags was hit with the largest civil penalty in National Highway Traffic Safety Administration history this week. The agency is fining Takata $200 million for the company's poor handling of defective air bag inflators.
It's been a long recall saga for the airbag manufacturer, involving 44 recalls and 19 million vehicles, so let's take a look at where it stands now.
While the $200 million fine seems large, Takata may not have to pay all of it. According to the Department of Transportation, only $70 million is "payable in cash." The other $130 million will only be due if more problems are uncovered or if Takata fails to properly remedy the situation.
Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx said the fine is for Takata's "delay, misdirection, and refusal to acknowledge the truth" of a safety crisis that began in 2008. "I have to say, this has been a mess," Foxx said Tuesday, "[a]nd today, NHTSA is stepping in to clean up the mess."
The problematic air bags had the potential to explode and send metal fragments flying upon impact. Takata airbags may be responsible for seven deaths and nearly 100 injuries in the U.S. alone. The NHTSA believes that chemicals were a factor in these malfunctioning airbags and has banned Takata from using ammonium nitrate as a propellant in new air bag inflators.
But beyond the defective nature of Takata's product, it was their deceit regarding the issue that drew the NHTSA's ire. "For years, Takata has built and sold defective products, refused to acknowledge the defect, and failed to provide full information to NHTSA, its customers, or the public," said Foxx. "The result of that delay and denial has harmed scores of consumers and caused the largest, most complex safety recall in history."
You can find out if your vehicle is affected by the numerous Takata recalls by entering your vehicle identification number on the NHTSA website. If you want legal advice regarding the recall or have been injured by a defective airbag, you may want to talk to an experienced personal injury attorney today.