Complex Business Litigation Attorneys

In many ways, the Takata defective airbag story is a familiar tale. A company desperate to optimize profits substitutes cheap ingredients and materials for more expensive and robust ones. Executives believe that no one will notice and they pat themselves on the back for their ingenuity. It took many years for the full extent of the Takata defective airbag scandal to come to light. For many years, company officials denied the problem and government regulators did not ask many questions. Eventually, cornered corporate heads admitted fault, government officials levied huge fines, and Takata declared bankruptcy. Many assumed that the nightmare was over. However, that’s not the case. In most product liability cases, most potential victims never receive notice of the defect. Companies continue to look for the easy way out. So, they send the minimum number of notices. With regard to automobile defects, that usually means sending recall notices to record owners. But many cars manufactured in the 1990s are on at least their third or fourth owner. These individuals may have no idea that they are essentially driving time bombs. Takata almost got away with it. For a number of years, no one knew about the dangerous airbags inside passenger cars. But corporate irresponsibility of this magnitude could not stay under wraps forever. As of January 2019, vehicle manufacturers have recalled over 50 million defective airbags, and there are at least another 10 million on the recall list. Even more tragically, many people probably do not know their vehicle has been recalled. Cars and trucks which are more than ten years old may be on their second, third, or even fourth owner. Since recall notices go out to original purchasers, these potential victims are completely in the dark. Assertive Napoli Law attorneys do more than obtain compensation for victims. They also hold companies, like Takata, responsible for their misdeeds. Other law firms are afraid to take on large multinational manufacturers. These companies have almost unlimited resources, and they fight liability lawsuits tooth and nail. But to our lawyers, these companies are just like the ones we’ve taken on before. We used proven methods to get results in those cases, and these methods will work for you as well. The attorneys at Napoli Law work hard to make things right in these situations. Because of our experience, we know how to get around the legal obstacles that these companies often deploy. Furthermore, because of our compassion, we understand the full extent of your pain and suffering from your Takata airbag injury. Finally, because of our tenacity, we do not settle for anything less than the best possible result under the circumstances.  

The Takata Airbag Story

The ongoing airbag recall, which began in 2013, has deep roots. In 1995, U.S. regulators recalled over eight million vehicles with defective Takata seatbelts. The latches released unexpectedly, sometimes during car crashes. At first, company officials blamed customer misuse for the problem. But, regulators finally determined the truth. History repeats itself. There is evidence that Takata knew about the airbag dangers about a decade before the first airbag recall. Between 2003 and 2013, airbag defects caused over a hundred deaths and serious injuries in the United States and overseas. Predictably, Takata moved slowly. Company officials promised additional oversight and better quality control measures, but did nothing. Executives also insisted that environmental problems, which they could not control, caused the airbag defects. While company officials did absolutely nothing and government regulators did basically nothing, personal injury attorneys went to work. When others cower in the dugout and refuse to protect victims, assertive lawyers step up to the plate. In the summer of 2014, a pregnant woman died when her car’s airbag exploded in a low-speed collision. Her child only survived for a few days. Less than six months after a lawsuit was filed, the National Traffic Safety Administration finally got on the horse and ordered a recall.  

The Problem That Won’t Go Away

AIrbags are marvelous machines. In only a fraction of a second, crash sensors trigger chemical reactions which superheat chemical propellants. These propellants expand very, very rapidly yet they do not explode. That action safely inflates the airbag and saves lives. For years, Takata airbags used a chemical propellant called tetrazole. When exposed to heat, this chemical always safely and quickly expands. It never suddenly and violently explodes. The company insisted that the new propellant, ammonium nitrate, was effective and safe. However, ammonium nitrate is highly unstable. Furthermore, while it has expansive properties, like tetrazole, it also has explosive properties, much like gasoline fumes. When ammonium nitrate is suddenly heated, either event could occur. So, there is just no way to tell what will happen. Takata airbags could suddenly explode and cause injury even after the driver bumps a curb. Under established product liability standards, that’s simply not acceptable.  

Why are Takata Airbags Defective?

In a high-speed collision, airbags rapidly inflate, creating a soft yet impenetrable barrier between front seat passengers and the steering wheel or dashboard. At least, that’s how it is supposed to work. Airbags rely on a delicate mixture propellant mixture. The airbag must inflate extremely rapidly but not explode. Quality propellants like these are expensive and difficult to find. So, in the late 1990s, Takata modified its manufacturing process. The company began using ammonium nitrate as a propellant. This dangerous substance is basically the same chemical that’s used in some roadside bombs. Furthermore, a tiny amount of moisture can cause the chemical to liquefy, resulting in Takata airbag injuries. This inherent instability, along with excess moisture, causes serious problems. The liquid disrupts the sensors. So, the airbag may inflate even in low-speed collisions. Moreover, ammonium nitrate’s explosive properties sometimes shatter the metal inside the steering column, showering the victims with shrapnel.  

What is privity of contract?

As mentioned earlier, many victims with defective Takata airbag related injuries did not purchase their vehicles directly from the manufacturer. So, there is no privity of contract between the victim and Takata. In many states, the obscure “privity of contract” rule cuts off product liability claims in these cases. But things are different in the Empire State, because of 1970’s Mendel v. Pittsburgh Plate Glass Co. In this case, the Court of Appeals allowed a victim to recover in a product liability case even though there was no privity of contract between the parties. Most product liability claims involve a breach of warranty. Under the Uniform Commercial Code, all goods must:
  • Be of fair, average quality,
  • Conform to any affirmations or claims that the company made (remember that Takata said its airbags were safe), and
  • Be fit for their ordinary purpose.
Special rules apply to merchants and other sellers who deal with specific kinds of merchandise. That definition includes vehicle salespeople. New York rules are also more liberal in terms of expert witnesses. Many claims, especially science-based claims, involve highly technical details that only certain people can comprehend and explain. In New York, the rules regarding expert witness evaluation are a bit more relaxed than they are in other states. So, many product liability claims are even easier to establish in court.  

Your Claim for Damages

An unsafe Takata airbag is the classic example of a design defect. Vehicles with these airbags were basically ticking time bombs by the time they rolled off the assembly line. No one who gets into the front seat of these cars and trucks is safe. A defective Takata airbag could explode after any fender-bender collision and cause serious or fatal injuries. Because of the widespread danger, manufacturers are strictly liable for damages in defective product cases. Victim/plaintiffs need only prove cause. That’s easier to do in New York than in some other states. Judges in the Empire State use a different standard for evaluating expert witnesses. Other products suffer from manufacturing defects. These products look great on the drawing board. But an error during the production or shipping process makes these products dangerous. Typically, manufacturing defects do not cause the same number of injuries as design defects. Manufacturers make their products at different facilities and under different conditions. In many other states, manufactures can use a legal loophole called privity of contract to avoid liability in some cases. This theory holds that only the original owner has a defective product claim against a manufacturer. But the New York Court of Appeals threw out this rule in 1970. So, even if you are the second, third, or fourth owner of a vehicle, you still have a defective airbag claim. Alternatively, some dangerous product actions involve nuisance claims. That’s especially common if the damage is widespread. Opioid actions are a good example. In a nutshell, nuisance claims are a little easier to prove than defective product claims. However, a nuisance action has lots of moving parts and may give rise to several manufacturer defenses. After your free consultation, your attorney will develop an appropriate theory of the case based on all the facts. In all kinds of civil cases, damages usually include compensation for economic losses, such as medical bills, as well as noneconomic losses, such as pain and suffering. Additional punitive damages may be available in some extreme circumstances. Takata’s long standing knowledge of the airbag problem and refusal to act arguably constitute such extreme circumstances. Exploding Takata airbags often cause extremely serious injuries. For a free consultation with an experienced personal injury attorney in New York, contact Napoli Shkolnik PLLC. We do not charge upfront legal fees in these kinds of cases.  

Personal Injury Claims and Bankruptcy

In 2017, Japan’s Takata Corporation filed bankruptcy in the United States. Company officials hoped that this legal maneuver would immunize them from product liability claims. But these corporate leaders have never clashed with the Napoli Law professional team. As a general rule, bankruptcy halts liability lawsuits and makes these actions harder to win once they resume. But victims in these situations still have a number of legal options. If the deadline has not passed, victims of injuries from Takata airbags may file proof of claims with the bankruptcy court. In most cases, a proof of claim is easier to establish than a liability action. Other victims may be able to bypass the automatic stay. The legal standard here is quite low. Victims need only show “cause” in these cases. That cause could be almost anything which the judge believes to be legitimate. Corporations often try to use bankruptcy as a sword instead of a shield. They argue that the corporate entity which emerged from bankruptcy is different than the one which declared bankruptcy. Therefore, they claim, there is no liability. Technically, that is true. But many courts have expressly rejected this argument, especially if there is evidence that the former company knew about the danger and disregarded it. That’s arguably the case with regard to defective Takata airbags and related injuries. Recall notices and other such actions may be no help whatsoever to victims. For a free consultation with an aggressive personal injury attorney in New York, contact Napoli Shkolnik PLLC. Attorneys can arrange for victims to receive top medical care, even if they have no money or insurance.  

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