Honda announced two months ago that it would no longer be using Takata as its supplier of driver and side airbags after concluding that airbag safety tests have been “misrepresented and manipulated.”
As part of a lawsuit filed against Takata by a Florida woman, who was paralyzed when the Takata airbag in her 2001 Honda Civic deployed too aggressively during a 2014 car accident, a number of files and employee emails have been unsealed. These files and emails appear to prove widespread manipulation and misrepresentation dating back to at least 2000.
The employee emails show a disregard for consumer safety. “Happy Manipulating!!!” wrote Bob Schubert, an airbag engineer with Takata, regarding poor airbag safety test results in 2006.
“To have these kind of offhand remarks shows that this is a systematic issue at Takata,” said Mark Lillie, a former Takata employee and whistleblower.
Employees were also encouraged to alter presentations to hide or misrepresent poor test results, including changing colors to divert attention or even changing results. An internal report conducted back in 2000 detailed numerous occasions in which “pressure vessel failures,” which means the airbag ruptured and exploded, were reported to Honda as normal deployments.
The newly discovered emails show particular concern for the results of tests conducted at higher temperatures, since elevated temperatures combined with moisture is proven to make ammonium nitrate, the propellant used in Takata airbags, much more volatile.
More specifically, the misrepresentation and manipulation is said to have been an effort to conceal a phenomenon known as “bimodal distribution,” which essentially means that there was a problem with consistency, since some of the airbags worked differently (i.e. exploded) than others.
“Clearly they are saying the data is not good, but if they can manipulate it, they can make it at least appear to be good data… This is really bad,” said Chris Caruso, a safety consultant in litigation regarding airbag defects.
How Dangerous Is the Takata Airbag Defect?
Takata airbags could potentially explode upon deployment, shooting shrapnel directly at the driver and passengers. In other cases, the airbag deploys too forcefully, causing injury. So far, the auto defect has been connected to eight wrongful deaths and more than a hundred serious personal injuries in the U.S. alone.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has imposed a $70 million fine on Takata, and ordered a massive recall covering as many as 20 million vehicles from 12 different car manufacturing companies, including Honda, Fiat Chrysler, GM, BMW, Toyota, Ford, Mazda, Nissan, Mitsubishi, Subaru, and Daimler Trucks. Officials say that that millions more may also need to be recalled later if the Japanese company cannot prove that the ammonium nitrate airbags are completely safe.
“Takata engineers knew of the dangers of manipulating test data,” said the lead plaintiff attorney in the Florida case that saw the emails unsealed. “The only thing they didn’t know was the names of the individuals who were going to be injured or killed.”
Targan & Pender is a New Jersey based law firm which works to help seek justice for individuals who have been injured or lost loved ones due to defective products or auto parts.