Hawaii lawsuit alleges Takata cover-up
The State of Hawaii has sued Takata Corp. over its defective airbag inflators in state court, accusing the beleaguered Japanese supplier of a cover-up.
Hawaii, the first state to sue Takata over the defective inflators linked to 13 deaths and more than 100 injuries worldwide, filed the lawsuit in Hawaii’s 1st Circuit Court on Friday. The suit also named Honda Motor Co., alleging the automaker knew the airbags it was buying from Takata were unsafe and installed them anyway.
Hawaii is seeking $10,000 for each affected vehicle in the state from each company named in the suit. About 70,000 vehicles with Takata airbags were sold in the state, according to the complaint, meaning the case theoretically could lead to a $700 million fine for both Takata and Honda.
“According to the facts alleged in the complaint, Takata and Honda put their own profits and reputations ahead of honesty and their customers’ safety,” said Stephen Levins, executive director of the Hawaii Office of Consumer Protection, in a statement. “We intend to hold them accountable for their conduct.”
The lawsuit is the latest blow for Takata, which said last week that it is considering restructuring in the face of mounting recall costs. Takata is under investigation by the U.S. Department of Justice and faces a host of claims in court, while the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration this month said up to 40 million additional Takata inflators need replacing on top of the 28.8 million already recalled.
After reviewing three investigations into the root cause of the defect, NHTSA confirmed this month that several years of exposure to moist air and fluctuations between high and lower temperatures degrade the ammonium nitrate propellant. When degraded, the propellant can explode with too much force when an airbag deploys, rupturing its container and spraying vehicle occupants with metal shards.
Hawaii is one of several high-humidity states where recall efforts were originally focused before expanding into the largest recall campaign in the history of the auto industry. The state’s tropical climate puts its residents at a “significantly greater risk of overly aggressive combustion, rupture, and injury and/or death caused by Takata’s unsafe airbags,” Hawaii alleges in the suit.
In addition to the civil penalties it is seeking from Takata and Honda, Hawaii is looking for restitution for affected car owners in the state and for the companies to launch a “robust public education effort” on the dangers of the inflators, according to the lawsuit. About one-third of the vehicles in Hawaii with defective airbags have been fixed, the state said in a news release, citing NHTSA data.
The state said it might add other corporations or individuals to the lawsuit based on future evidence.
A Takata spokesman declined to comment. A Honda spokesman said the company could not yet comment on the suit because the company has not yet been served with the complaint.
A request for comment from the State of Hawaii was not immediately returned.
The Associated Press and The New York Times reported about the lawsuit on Friday.
Ryan Beene contributed to this report.