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
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.”
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
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
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”
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.