JACKSONVILLE – A fast-approaching trial, the potential for punitive damages, and an impending ruling on whether the head of an embattled airbag manufacturer should be deposed were the driving forces behind the settlement of a Florida lawsuit, according to the attorney for the plaintiff.
Takata Corp., accused of manufacturing defective airbag inflators and concealing potential dangers, settled July 15 with the family of Jacksonville woman Patricia Mincey, who died in April aged 77, nearly two years after a crash involving her 2001 Honda Civic that left her quadriplegic.
The suit was settled on the day a Florida state court judge was to rule on whether Takata Corp.’s chief executive Shigehisa Takata should be deposed ahead of the October trial date. The terms of the settlement were not disclosed, but Takata will not now be deposed in this case.
Takata Corp.’s admitted defective air bag inflators, which deploy with too much force, sometimes rupturing and sending metal fragments flying, have been linked to 14 deaths worldwide, including 13 in Honda vehicles. Mincey settled with Honda earlier this year.
In what is the largest auto-related recall in U.S. history, 14 automakers have either recalled, or agreed to recall, 65 million air bag inflators. Close to 100 million Takata inflators have been declared unsafe globally.
Theodore Leopold, the attorney for Mincey and her family, said his firm was pleased with the resolution of the lawsuit “in that a measure of justice was provided to the Mincey family.”
“In my view, the fact that the trial was fast approaching and the court was getting to rule on whether we were going to be able to depose Shige Takata and obtain punitive damages, I believe was a driving force to the matter resolving when it did,” Leopold told the Florida Record.
The attorney said there is still significant litigation against Takata Corp. and Honda ongoing throughout the country.
“The family is pleased that they can move on and that they brought about a full measure of justice for their mother’s injuries and death,” Leopold said in an email message.
In June 2014, Mincey drove through a red light at 30 miles per hour, colliding with another car traveling at 20 miles per hour. The airbag did not deploy immediately, but then did so forcefully, though it did not rupture as what happened in many other cases. Mincey broke her back and was in care until she died this year. Four days after the collision, Honda recalled the airbag installed in the car.
The lawsuit accused Takata Corp. and Honda of hiding the “potential overpowered deployment from consumers for more than a decade.” It alleged Takata Corp. knew of the potential problems since 2001, and that Honda was aware from 2004.
New test data released in June by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) revealed a particular subset of defective Takata air bag inflators in certain model-year 2001-2003 Honda and Acura vehicles show a far higher risk of ruptures during air bag deployment.
The NHTSA issued an urgent call to ensure that unrepaired vehicles in this population are found and fixed before they cause further injuries or fatalities.
“With as high as a 50 percent chance of a dangerous air bag inflator rupture in a crash, these vehicles are unsafe and need to be repaired immediately,” said U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx in a statement. “Folks should not drive these vehicles unless they are going straight to a dealer to have them repaired immediately, free of charge.”
Honda has reported that more than 70 percent of this higher-risk population of vehicles has already been repaired, but approximately 313,000 vehicles with what the NHTSA said is “this very dangerous defect” remain unrepaired.
The risk posed by the airbag inflators in these vehicles is grave, and it is critical they be repaired now to avoid more deaths and serious injuries, the NHTSA said.
Takata Corp. has been the subject of a criminal investigation by the U.S. Justice Department since late 2014.