Hawaii has become the first state to file suit against Takata Corp. over its faulty air bags linked to several deaths. The consumer protection lawsuit was filed in state court accusing the Japanese auto parts maker of engaging in a cover-up. Takata was accused in the suit of making and supplying air bags it knew were unsafe, and $10,000 is sought for each instance of unfair and deceptive conduct in violation of state consumer protection laws. The state also claims that Honda Motor Co., which installed at least 10 million of the defective air bags, failed to do enough to warn consumers of the potential danger.
Hawaii claims in its lawsuit that Takata switched to ammonium nitrate propellant to inflate the bags because it was cheaper, despite being aware of the potential for the bags to unpredictably explode upon inflation. The complaint states:
Takata knew even before it began using ammonium nitrate in its air bags in 1999 that ammonium nitrate was too unstable to be suitable for use in motor vehicle air bags, particularly in areas of the country with high heat and/or high humidity, like Hawaii.
The suit says Takata ran secret tests on its air bags and later concealed the adverse results until Takata whistleblowers made the information public. It’s alleged that Takata continued to deny that ammonium nitrate was responsible for the safety issues in its air bags, failed to disclose what it knew about its own testing of the air bags, and continued to attempt to minimize the scope of the problem.
In the claim against Honda, Hawaii alleges the automaker didn’t halt sales of cars furnished with Takata air bags despite being aware of the dangers. Hawaii said in the complaint:
[Honda] continued to sell cars equipped with Takata air bags and inadequately pursued recalls – saving money while subjecting consumers to an ongoing risk of serious injury and death.
Stephen Levins, head of Hawaii’s Office of Consumer Protection, said companies are obligated to deliver safe products. He added the following in a statement:
Takata and Honda put their own profits and reputations ahead of honesty and their customers’ safety. We intend to hold them accountable for their conduct.
Hawaii is represented by Melina D. Sanchez of the Hawaii Office of Consumer Protection, L. Richard Fried Jr. and Patrick F. McTernan of Cronin Fried Sekiya Kekina & Fairbanks, and Linda Singer and Anthony R. Juzaitis of Cohen Milstein Sellers & Toll PLLC. The case is in the First Circuit Court of the State of Hawaii.
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