JPML Will Hear Motion to Centralize Cases Involving Takata Airbags (MDL 2599) During January Session
On January 29, 2015, a hearing before the Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation (JPML) will take place in Miami, Florida regarding the potential Takata Airbag MDL (In re: Takata Airbag Products Liability Litigation, MDL No. 2599). During this hearing, plaintiffs and defendants will present their arguments to the panel as to whether all federally-filed Takata Airbag cases should be consolidated and transferred to one district court, as well as the particular district court.
The New York Times reports that Takata has struggled for nearly two decades to tame an unstable compound that is thought to be the source of airbag ruptures. According to The New York Times, “[a]s far back as June 1995, a patent application filed by Takata expressed concern over using the compound, saying that it was so vulnerable to temperature changes that its casing, under excessive pressure, ‘might even blow up’,” patent documents revealed. The patent document revealed, however, that Takata said it could stabilize the compound – ammonium nitrate – and by 2001, Takata began using ammonium nitrate in its propellant to generate the gases and inflate the airbag.
At least five deaths and dozens of injuries have been linked to the alleged defective deployment of the airbags. The defect has led to a multitude of nation-wide lawsuits, which assert that Takata and several car manufacturers defrauded consumers by concealing crucial information pertaining to the airbags. One possibility for the defect is Takata’s choice to use an unusual explosive chemical, ammonium nitrate, to inflate its airbags in milliseconds, according to auto industry executives. “No other supplier other than Takata has used this ammonium nitrate,” states Jochen Siebert, the managing director of JSC Automotive Consulting in Shanghai.
However, Takata attributes the issue to manufacturing flaws in the propellant, problems it says it has since fixed, and continues to stand behind its use of ammonium nitrate. Hiroshi Shimizu, Takata’s chief quality officer, said at a congressional hearing just last week, “The ammonium nitrate that we are using, it’s safe and stable.” Alby Berman, a Takata spokesperson, said, “Ammonium nitrate-based propellant has significant advantages over other inflater propellants [since] it releases fewer toxic emissions, is more efficient, allowing for smaller inflaters, and is safer to manufacture.”
The U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration received statements from several auto manufacturers that they are issuing recalls to address the safety defect. The manufacturers involved in the recall include BMW, Chrysler, Ford, Honda, Mazda, Nissan, Toyota, and Mitsubishi. And according to a recent report by The New York Times, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has ordered that Takata turn over pertinent records. In particular, the administration has demanded that “Takata turn over records regarding the production, testing and subsequent concerns raised internally and by automakers over the airbags, as well as communications between the company and automakers about defect concerns.”
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