This week a sitting United States Senator picked a fight with several multi-national corporations because of the way they’ve handled a recent recall involving defective airbags. We were fortunate to have front row seats this week as we watched it unfold.
"You fix it and fix it right," said Nelson as he made a three city tour across Florida this week, including a press conference in Orlando on Tuesday at our law firm’s warehouse. "This is absolutely unacceptable and absolutely outrageous."
The Takata Corporation, a Japanese company with a plants in Mexico and elsewhere, is one of the two largest airbag manufacturers in the world. Their airbags are used by many of the largest car makers in a variety of different vehicles. Lately they have been the target of lawsuits and inquiries in multiple countries. Over the past six years, more than 16 million vehicles worldwide have been recalled because of defective Takata airbags which explode, sending shrapnel through the fabric of the bags and into a driver or passenger’s face, neck and chest.
Our client Corey Burdic of Eustis was blinded in one eye after his airbag exploded in an accident five months ago. The 26-year-old married father of two young boys was involved in a fender bender when his airbag exploded and sent a three and a half inch piece of metal into his head before it severed an artery and lodged against his skull. Dr. George Pope, a local plastic surgeon, dislodged the metal and stitched up Corey’s artery and face. Unfortunately however, Corey lost one of his eyes and is now permanently disfigured.
Sitting on the curb, bleeding after the accident, Corey said “I thought I was going to die.”
"I think people have the right to know if they are driving around in a metal coffin or not," Corey told Senator Nelson during the press conference in Orlando.
As we’ve written here before, the manufacturers have known about the Takata airbag problem for years. The first of several recalls for this problem happened in 2009 with reported incidents going back to 2004. Several lawsuits were filed in the past on behalf of injured or killed motorists but they were quickly and confidentially settled.
After a series of articles and stories about Corey’s case and another incident involving a death in Central Florida, Nelson became aware of the issue and got involved. This week he held a series of press conferences to increase public awareness about the recall and urge people to take their recalled vehicles to a dealership to have their airbags replaced.
“The very device that is supposed to save lives is killing people,” he said. “If I sound angry, I am!”
As reported by the Tampa Bay Times and other media outlets, manufacturers are short on replacement airbag modules. As a result some dealers are being told to disable passenger side airbags, and tell consumers not to let a passenger ride in the front seat.
This is an absurd solution which – incredibly – has received tacit approval from NHTSA. As Nelson pointed out this week, many families who have three or more children or who carpool with other families need to use every seat on a daily basis. For these families, not having anyone ride in the front isn’t an option.
On Monday Nelson sent two letters to the CEOs of both Honda and Toyota. In the letters he called on the manufacturers to provide loaner or rental cars for those having their airbags replaced, “so people don’t feel like they’re taking their lives into their hands by using their cars.”
Dealers have balked at the idea of offering free loaner or rental cars during the recall. Many say that there is a serious backlog of parts and that could lead to excessive expenses on their part.
Senator Nelson countered by saying, "General Motors recently took this step for certain models with faulty ignition switches, and there is no reason why automakers covered by this notice should not be required to take the same steps."
If the companies don’t agree to Nelson’s request, he said he will push the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to levy multimillion-dollar daily penalties against the auto makers and dealers who fail to provide rental cars.
According to auto experts, replacing the faulty airbags should take about an hour and costs between $400-$1,200 depending on the make and model.
Nelson also announced that the Senate Commerce Committee will hold hearings on this issue in the near future. Nelson plans to call the manufacturers’ CEOs to testify about what and when they knew about the defect, and why the danger wasn’t addressed before people were needlessly injured and killed.
We applaud the Senator for his leadership and very much look forward to watching how this plays out during the upcoming Senate hearings.