MIAMI - Two Florida women filed suit against BMW's North American unit on Wednesday, saying defective air bags in the German automaker's X5 SUVs can deploy without impact, causing a driver to lose control.
The lawsuit against BMW of North America LLC, filed in a state court in Miami, also alleges the company tried to cover up the problem by making owners sign secrecy agreements if they wanted the defect fixed under warranty.
It seeks class-action status, a legal process by which someone can sue on behalf of a group of people who suffered similar harm. A judge decides whether the lawsuit deserves class-action status.
The lawsuit, filed by Yvonne Louis and her daughter, Lizette Vale, both of Miami, alleges Vale was driving their 2001 X5 on April 19, when the driver's side air bag and head protection system, or HPS, deployed with a loud explosion. There was no accident or pothole that could have caused it, the suit said.
The suit said BMW of North America offered to replace the air bag but demanded Louis and Vale sign a confidentiality agreement "to keep the problem with the air bags and HPS secret."
"For them to say 'we want to keep it a secret so we can put profits over people' is just wrong," plaintiff's lawyer Ervin Gonzalez said.
David Buchko, a spokesman for Woodcliff Lake, N.J.-based BMW of North America, a subsidiary of Germany's Bayerische Motoren Werke AG, said the company was limited in what it could say because of the litigation. But he said the company had inspected Louis' X5 in April.
"According to our inspection...the vehicle did show some evidence of impact damage, and that damage could well have triggered the deployment of the air bag," he said.
Gonzalez said the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has had two other similar complaints of improperly deployed air bags.
Buchko said he was unaware of any other such complaints. Of the allegation that BMW demanded secrecy, he said, "Ordinarily a confidentiality agreement is not part of having warranty work done."
The lawsuit demands BMW inspect and repair all 2001 to 2004 X5 model air bags. The X5 has been the subject of several recalls, including one of 164,000 vehicles in January 2003, due to a fault in a brake hose.
The suit also seeks an injunction to prevent BMW North America from using confidentiality agreements to "conceal the public hazard of air bags and HPS that improperly deploy."