When tests conducted nearly two decades ago started showing malfunctioning Takata airbags, including some that exploded, few people could have predicted that what unfolded would become the biggest automotive safety recall in American history — or that two dozen people would die as a result of defective airbags.
To date, more than 63 million car airbags manufactured by the Takata Corp. have been recalled, and millions of dollars have been set aside by Takata and automakers to compensate individuals harmed by the faulty airbags.
Learn more here about whether your car is affected by a recall; be sure to have your VIN handy.
While settlement agreements and trusts have been established to compensate some people who were affected by these dangerous airbags, in many other cases those harmed by Takata’s products may need to file a lawsuit in order to receive the compensation to which they’re entitled.
Let’s review the details of this issue and what potential victims of these airbags need to know about the steps they could take.
- What Are Takata Airbags?
- The Science of Airbags
- Ammonium Nitrate
- Ignoring the Warnings
- Affected Cars
- Injuries and Deaths From Takata Airbags
- Timeline of Recalls
- Legal Ramifications
- Takata Airbag Lawsuits
- What Should I Do if I Have Been Affected by Takata Airbags?
- How Do I Know if I Qualify to Be Part of a Takata Airbag Lawsuit?
- How Does a Takata Airbag Lawsuit Work?
- How Long Does It Take to Settle a Takata Lawsuit?
- What Is the Statute of Limitations on Takata Lawsuits?
- How Much Can You Get From a Takata Lawsuit?
- How Long Does It Take to Get Your Money After a Takata Settlement?
What Are Takata Airbags?
Before it filed for bankruptcy protection in 2017, the Takata Corp., a Japanese auto parts manufacturer, had at one time controlled about 30% of the airbag market. But a defect in the inflator mechanism meant that airbags could explode instead of deploying at the intended speed.
This led to serious injuries and even deaths, particularly in hot, humid climates where the chemical accelerant used in the airbag mechanism was more likely to be affected. Starting in 2013, mass recalls were issued for vehicles with these airbags.
A separate group of Takata airbags were recalled in late 2019 for a similar issue, though in the 2019 recall, a different chemical propellant was used. In that recall, some airbags exploded, but others did not deploy at all.
An estimated 63 million airbags have been recalled as part of the broader Takata recall, including cars made by more than a dozen manufacturers.
The Science of Airbags
All airbags work on the same principle — a car’s sensors detect a collision and triggers a chemical reaction that forces the airbags to inflate rapidly, usually deploying within about 1/20th of a second. These inflated airbags help cushion drivers and passengers from the force of a collision.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration estimates that more than 50,000 lives were saved between 1987 and 2017 because of airbags.
Originally, airbags used a mixture of sodium azide to trigger the bags to inflate. Unfortunately, sodium azide is a toxic chemical, and it was not uncommon for fumes to cause chemical burns or respiratory problems when the airbags would deploy.
Most airbag manufacturers began searching for alternatives to sodium azide. By the end of the 20th century, Takata’s researchers settled on another volatile chemical, ammonium nitrate. The inclusion of this chemical is at the heart of the Takata airbag recall and lawsuits.
In addition to the use of ammonium nitrate itself, which was considered by many to be too dangerous regardless of the airbag design, Takata’s inflators did not include a drying agent. This exposed the ammonium nitrate to heat up and grow humid over time. Particularly in warm climates, this caused the airbags to explode according to findings published by NHTSA.
Ammonium nitrate is one of the world’s most popular fertilizers, but it’s also extremely volatile. In August 2020, a massive explosion of stored ammonium nitrate in Beirut killed more than 200 and leveled huge swaths of the Lebanese capital city. In other cities around the world, including in the U.S., ammonium nitrate has caused accidental explosions, like it did in 2013 when a fertilizer plant fire in a Texas town killed 15 people.
In other cases, ammonium nitrate has been used to build explosive devices. Timothy McVeigh, the terrorist who in 1995 attacked the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City, built an ammonium nitrate-fueled bomb to carry out his attack, which claimed nearly 170 lives.
Ignoring the Warnings
Reporting by the New York Times and others has revealed that within the Takata Corp., there was far from consensus on the safety of ammonium nitrate as an accelerant for airbags but that the company proceeded because the material was cheaper than other options, giving Takata a competitive advantage in the market.
In 2017, the company pleaded guilty to charges that it falsified testing data provided to automakers, and Takata agreed to pay fines and restitution to drivers and automakers totaling about $1 billion.
As mentioned, more than 60 million Takata-manufactured airbags have been recalled, including both the massive ammonium nitrate-related recall and the smaller-scale recall, which affected about 1.4 million cars.
The affected vehicles span about two dozen automakers, including brands that no longer exist. Most were manufactured between 2003 and 2016. Here’s a look at the affected brands:
- Daimler Trucks/Daimler Vans
- Land Rover
(Learn more about what to do if your car is part of a recall.)
Injuries and Deaths From Takata Airbags
It’s been confirmed that at least 24 people around the world have been killed by exploding Takata airbags, and at least 16 of those deaths have been in the U.S. More than 200 people have been seriously injured in these explosions, which can cause devastating and gruesome injuries, as they burst and send shrapnel hurtling toward vehicle occupants.
Injuries that have been reported in accidents in which Takata airbags exploded include:
- Severed and torn arteries
- Skull fractures
- Traumatic brain injury
- Deep lacerations resembling gunshot or stab wounds
- Permanent eye injuries
- Facial scratches and trauma
In one 2014 accident in Florida, police responding to the scene of the crash were so convinced that the driver had been stabbed that they focused their investigation on a potential suspect. At a crash in California the previous year, the driver’s injuries looked as though he’d been shot in the face. In both cases, the drivers died.
Timeline of Recalls
Mass national recalls didn’t begin on Takata airbags until 2015, but smaller-scale recalls had been issued by multiple automakers before the federal action was taken. Here’s a summary of major recall events to date:
In November, Honda issued recalls of 4,000 Honda Accords and Civics (from the 2001 model year), indicating that excessive pressure in the inflator could cause airbags to rupture and spray metal fragments inside the car.
Honda expands its recall to 500,000 vehicles, and later that year the NHTSA opens an investigation into how Honda handles the recalls. The automaker is later found to have acted responsibly in the matter.
Honda expands its recall to nearly 900,000 Honda and Acura vehicles.
Toyota, Honda, Nissan, Mazda, and BMW issue a total of 3.4 million global recalls over Takata airbags.
Recalls expand to about 11 million, including 7.8 million in the U.S., and the New York Times reports that Takata technicians were ordered to destroy test results that showed cracks in airbag inflators.
Takata acknowledges some inflators may be defective and agrees to pay up to $200 million in an agreement with NHTSA. Recalls expand to about 32 million airbags, including those in BMW, Chrysler, Ford, GM, Honda, Mazda, Mitsubishi, Nissan, Subaru, and Toyota models.
A total of 40 million airbags are under recall, making Takata’s the largest product safety recall in American history.
The Takata Corp. pleads guilty to federal criminal charges over its conduct, while recalls in the U.S. expand to 46 million airbags in 34 million vehicles. Six months later, the company files for bankruptcy protection.
Recalls expand to cover 56 million airbag inflators in almost 42 million U.S. vehicles, while separately, recalls are issued for Takata-made inflators that don’t use ammonium nitrate as a propellant but can still explode.
The recall list expands to certain Volkswagen models, bringing the total number of airbags recalled to about 63 million. NHTSA also takes the unusual step of issuing so-called “do not drive” orders for vehicles the agency says are at especially high risk of exploding airbags. Those vehicles consist of some 2001-2003 Hondas and Acuras, 2006 Ford Rangers, and Mazda B-Series vehicles; the agency says these cars shouldn’t be driven except if taking them immediately to a dealership to have them repaired.
In 2017, the Takata Corp. and three executives pleaded guilty to charges of wire fraud and conspiracy, agreeing to pay $1 billion in criminal penalties associated with its defective airbags. According to a statement from the U.S. Department of Justice, “Takata repeatedly and systematically falsified critical test data related to the safety of its products, putting profits and production schedules ahead of safety.”
Takata acknowledged that it had long been aware that some of its airbags hadn’t been functioning as they should have, according to the plea agreement, and that its own testing had resulted in failures that included ruptures of the inflator and airbag devices. The company’s plea further acknowledged that Takata falsified reports and other documentation to hide the flaws in the airbags.
Takata Airbag Lawsuits
Multiple lawsuits, including some class actions, have been filed against Takata and auto manufacturers. In addition to Takata’s plea deal, which included millions in settlement funds, some car brands have agreed to establish trusts as well.
The Takata Airbag Tort Compensation Trust Fund (TATCTF) was established after the company filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection. Its purpose is to compensate individuals who were injured when their airbags exploded, and to compensate the survivors of those who died because of these explosions. This trust fund is separate from the restitution fund established after the company’s court plea. In both cases, though, only those who were injured or whose loved ones died because of Takata airbags may seek restitution.
Individuals do face a time limit in filing claims against the two trusts. Claims stemming from accidents that happened before April 10, 2018 must be postmarked or submitted electronically by April 10, 2021. Claims connected to accidents on or after April 10, 2018 must be submitted no later than three years after the accident, or the length of time established by the state law that applies to the claim.
Statutes of limitations on product liability lawsuits typically vary from those that apply to wrongful death. It’s not necessary to have an attorney to file a claim, but it can be helpful to the process to ensure that all necessary aspects of the claim are covered.
Two automakers, Honda and Nissan, are listed as Participating Original Equipment Manufacturers (POEMs) in the Takata trust agreement, and individuals can also file claims against these companies through the TATCTF fund.
Multiple automakers have agreed to settlements in a series of class-action lawsuits filed over Takata airbags. BMW, Ford, Honda, Mazda, Subaru, and Toyota all have agreed to settlements in the cases, and most owners of these vehicles have received notifications that they are eligible for payments in connection.
Visit this page to learn more about how to submit a claim if your car was affected, though it’s important to note that depending on when the agreement with your individual automaker was verified, your time to receive payment through these settlements may have passed.
What Should I Do if I Have Been Affected by Takata Airbags?
The most important thing you can do right now is to make sure your vehicle is safe to drive. While many vehicles that included defective Takata airbags have already been repaired, there are still likely thousands on the road with airbags that contain the defect.
In some cases, vehicle repair is important but not urgent. In other cases, though, both federal regulators and automakers have issued do-not-drive recommendations. That’s because some vehicles are equipped with so-called “alpha” airbags, meaning they are particularly old and may be close to failure. According to NHTSA, these vehicles have a 50% chance of the airbag failing, possibly causing it to explode.
The affected vehicles are:
- 2001-2002 Honda Civic
- 2001-2002 Honda Accord
- 2002-2003 Acura TL
- 2002 Honda CR-V
- 2002 Honda Odyssey
- 2003 Acura CL
- 2003 Honda Pilot
- 2006 Ford Ranger
- 2006 Mazda B-Series
If your car is on this list and it hasn’t had its airbags replaced, the only place it should be driven is straight to a dealership for a free repair.
How Do I Know if I Qualify to Be Part of a Takata Airbag Lawsuit?
There are a few different ways to qualify to be part of a Takata airbag lawsuit, settlement, or class-action claim.
In the simplest case, all that’s required is to have owned or leased a car, truck, or other vehicle that contained a defective Takata airbag that was repaired. In some cases, deadlines for filing these claims have already passed, but you can see if you can still receive compensation here.
Trusts have also been established to compensate those who were injured by exploding airbags or, in cases where people were killed by airbags, to compensate their survivors. Deadlines for these claims will begin expiring in 2021. Click here to see if you can file a claim.
Otherwise, consulting with an experienced attorney can help you determine if you qualify to file a new lawsuit in any of these cases.
How Does a Takata Airbag Lawsuit Work?
With multiple trusts and settlements, it can be quite confusing to determine how to proceed if you either drove a car with recalled airbags, were injured by an airbag, or are the loved one of someone who was injured or killed because their airbag exploded.
Do I Need a Lawyer to Join a Takata Lawsuit?
To file a new lawsuit in the Takata case, you certainly will need to consult with an attorney. While it’s not required that you have a lawyer in order to file a claim against any of the trusts or in the class-action settlements, it may be in your best interest to consult with a lawyer so you can be sure that you are receiving all the compensation to which you’re entitled.
Has There Been a Settlement in Takata Lawsuits?
Yes, there have been multiple settlements related to Takata airbags. Takata Corp., which pleaded guilty to criminal charges and later filed for bankruptcy, has established a trust to compensate the victims of its faulty airbags. Two automakers have contributed to that trust, while several others have separately settled class-action lawsuits to compensate victims.
What Cars Are Included in the Takata Settlement?
Automakers that are part of the Takata trust or class-action settlement include Acura, Honda, Nissan, Infiniti, BMW, Mazda, Subaru, Toyota, and Ford. Model years generally span 2001 to 2017, and specific models can be found at the following links, organized by brand:
How Long Does It Take to Settle a Takata Lawsuit?
Several class-action lawsuits have already been settled in the Takata airbag case, and the length of time between filing a claim in those cases or filing a claim against the Takata trust, which was established after the company’s guilty plea and bankruptcy, varies.
Many people have already received their compensation, and generally, claims are processed and either approved or rejected within a few months.
What Is the Statute of Limitations on Takata Lawsuits?
State laws vary, but most people will likely need to file claims against the Takata trust funds by no later than mid-2021. The specifics of each case will depend on when or if recalls were issued on the vehicle, when accidents occurred (if applicable), and what the statute of limitations is in the state where you live or where the accident occurred.
Generally, the statute of limitations is three years.
How Much Can You Get From a Takata Lawsuit?
Hundreds of millions of dollars were set aside for payments related to Takata airbags, but the defective devices were in millions of vehicles on the road. In general, the payments are expected to cover out-of-pocket costs related to repairs, as well as compensating individuals for injuries or loved ones for deaths in especially tragic cases.
During the first round of restitution from the Takata trust in 2019, payments ranged from $643.40 to $608,013, depending on a formula that awarded points based on the severity of damages.
How Long Does It Take to Get Your Money After a Takata Settlement?
Claims against the Takata trusts are examined and scored by the trustee based on a formula that provides varying levels of compensation that scales up with the injury severity.
If a claim is approved, the trustee will send notice about their determination, and the person submitting the claim will have 30 days to respond. They can appeal, or they can accept the determination.
For claimants who have hired attorneys, an electronic wire transfer generally will be the form of payment, and the attorney will then disburse the funds.
Individuals who make claims in the class-action settlements that several automakers have agreed to may be able to get payment more quickly, as the structure of approving or denying these claims is less complex than for the Takata trust. But generally, it’s reasonable to expect to wait several months.