WASHINGTON (Bloomberg) -- In 2010 the front seat airbags in Kristy Williams’s 2001 Honda Civic deployed while the Atlanta-area woman was stopped at a light. Shrapnel allegedly flew from one of the safety devices during the blast that inflated them.
The metal hit Williams in the neck, severing her carotid artery, according to a suit she filed in Georgia state court against Honda and Tokyo-based Takata, maker of the airbag inflator. Williams stuck two fingers in the wound to stop the bleeding as she waited for an ambulance. Her loss of blood led to several strokes, a seizure, and a speech disorder, according to the suit.
Honda and Takata settled with Williams in 2011. Joel Wooten, her attorney, says the terms are confidential and declines to discuss the case.
Takata, which accounts for about a quarter of all airbag inflators produced globally, is finding it far more difficult to silence safety questions now that horrific details of shrapnel-induced injuries involving its products have made headlines in recent months.
One Florida crash left a young driver with a metal shard in her eye socket. Another incident in that state resulted in gashes on a dead woman’s throat so similar to stab wounds that police thought she’d been murdered. And a Puerto Rico fender bender left a woman with her jaw sliced open.
Takata declined to answer specific questions about deaths and injuries involving its airbags.
Honda, Takata’s largest customer, has so far confirmed two deaths and 30 injuries from the possible defect and is investigating two additional deaths in Florida and California. Several law firms led by Labaton Sucharow on Oct. 27 filed a proposed class-action suit in Florida against Takata and automakers including Honda, BMW, Ford, Nissan, and Toyota. It claims the defendants concealed the extent of airbag dangers.
The latest reports come six years after Honda first recalled 4,000 Accords and Civics in the U.S. outfitted with Takata airbags. Over the past 18 months, mainly regional recalls have been issued on 7.8 million cars in the U.S. -- including some more than a decade old -- from 10 automakers.
The manufacturers say they initiated the recalls at the advice of Takata and in consultation with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. An additional 7 million cars of the same makes and model years were sold and may be on the road in other parts of the country, according to an analysis by Bloomberg of annual U.S. sales data. Others are on the road worldwide.
“This is a defect that has been festering for some time,” says Clarence Ditlow, executive director of the Center for Auto Safety in Washington. “There’s still a lot that’s unknown, and the response has been appalling.”
Takata, which has said it’s cooperating with regulators and carmakers, issued an apology on Oct. 27.
“We deeply regret that the recent recalls of vehicles equipped with our airbags have likely raised significant concerns and troubles to our product users, our customers, shareholders, and other stakeholders,” CEO Shigehisa Takada said in a statement.