LOS ANGELES (Bloomberg) -- Takata Corp., the Japanese parts maker at the center of a global auto safety crisis, knew at least as early as 2001 of manufacturing defects that could lead its airbags to explode, U.S. drivers claimed in lawsuits.
Takata issued a recall notice 13 years ago related to exploding airbags in Isuzu Motors Ltd. vehicles, according to federal complaints filed Monday in at least two states. The class-action lawsuits allege at least four deaths and 139 injuries are linked to defective Takata airbags in models sold by carmakers including Honda Motor Co. and Toyota Motor Corp.
“Takata and Honda repeatedly failed to fully investigate the problem and issue proper recalls, allowing the problem to proliferate and cause numerous injuries and at least four deaths over the last 13 years,” according to a copy of one complaint filed in the Central District of California.
Representatives for Takata, Honda and Toyota declined to comment until they received the complaints. Isuzu spokesman Eiji Mitsuhashi couldn’t immediately comment when reached by phone, and the company wasn’t named as a defendant.
Airbags made by Takata have deployed with too much force and flung metal shrapnel at passengers, prompting the top U.S. auto safety regulator last week to urge owners of almost 8 million vehicles to get them fixed immediately. In addition to manufacturing flaws, ongoing probes are likely to focus on Takata’s unique choice of explosive chemical compounds used to inflate its airbags, industry executives have said.
The lawsuits also name Ford Motor Co. and BMWM AG as defendants. Car owners allege they were duped into buying models that weren’t as safe as they were made to believe because of the potentially dangerous airbags.
Last week, Florida resident Claribel del Carmen Nunez sued Takata and a U.S. unit of Honda, claiming she was injured after a defective air bag in her car exploded, according to her complaint filed in federal court in Florida. Both Takata and Honda were negligent in failing to test the airbag, Nunez alleged in her lawsuit.
As of last week, about 7.8 million people in the U.S. were notified of the defect, with General Motors Co. joining Toyota in warning people not to sit in front passenger seats until repairs can be made. The recalls affect at least 10 carmakers in the U.S.
In a separate lawsuit filed in the Central District of California, another five buyers or leasers of BMW, Honda and Toyota cars claimed their vehicles were unsafe because of the potentially faulty Takata airbags. Takata and the carmakers “did not fully investigate or disclose the seriousness of the issue and in fact downplayed the widespread prevalence of the problem,” according to the lawsuit.