Takata Corp. has refused to establish a compensation fund for victims of its air bag defect, which has caused at least eight deaths. The company cites the “limited number of claims” filed so far and the ongoing multidistrict litigation (MDL) over injuries caused by accidents related to the defect. U.S. Senator Richard Blumenthal said the auto-parts manufacturer declined his requests made at a congressional hearing for Takata to set up a compensation fund for victims similar to the one that General Motors (GM) set up for victims of its deadly ignition switch defect.
At the time that GM set up the fund, which is independently overseen by settlement expert Kenneth Feinberg, the automaker had acknowledged only 13 deaths that were linked to the defect. But so far, Feinberg has found that 120 death claims are eligible for compensation. “I am astonished and deeply disappointed by Takata’s refusal to establish a victim’s compensation fund — even after 100 injuries and eight deaths attributed to its defective air bags, numbers almost certain to rise,” Sen. Blumenthal said in a statement. He continued:
Takata is apparently unwilling to acknowledge its responsibility for these tragic deaths and injuries, or do justice for victims and their loved ones. I will press Takata to reconsider this callous misjudgment, and do right by the innocent victims of its harm.
Takata North America executive Kevin Kennedy wrote to Blumenthal on July 7, saying that the company has already resolved a number of cases involving the defect, which causes air bag deflators to rupture, hurling shrapnel-like fragments onto passengers. Kennedy, the executive vice president of Takata’s North American operations, wrote in the letter that the company will “continue to evaluate the possible benefits of such a mechanism” to address personal injury claims, as the MDL progresses in federal court in Florida. He wrote in the letter:
At the present time, given the limited number of claims filed and the MDL procedures in place that permit the efficient coordination of related claims, Takata believes that a national compensation fund is not currently required.
The total number of automobiles wrapped up in the recall was estimated at 34 million at the end of May, which makes it the largest recall of its kind. Since that time that number has increased. Jared Levy, a Takata spokesman, in a statement, said:
While we do not believe establishing a general compensation fund is warranted at this time, we will continue to assess our position as we focus on how best to address the needs of individuals affected by an inflator rupture.
I believe that eventually Takata may see fit to establish a compensation fund. There will definitely be many more claims surfacing involving deaths and serious injuries due to the magnitude and scope of the problem. Every day, something new develops with more cars being involved. This matter is far from over.
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