When Airbags Attack

After the past several months, one would be forgiven for believing that the worst is behind General Motors. After the ignition defects that plagued GM model vehicles for the past decade, there was no fathomable way that things could get worse. So, while in search of some other car-making that is producing defective products which put us in harm’s way, I’ve found another offender: General Motors. Seriously, guys?

As of July, General Motors is adding more than a quarter million additional compact hatchbacks in the U.S. and Canada to the growing recall for air bags that can explode with too much force. So much force, in fact, that these airbags have proven to be fatal. Recently, GM announced their expanded recall for passenger airbags found in the Pontiac Vibe, Saab 9-2X, and several truck models, including the Silverado and Sierra. And for those of you that are Toyota owners, it should be of note that the Vibe and Toyota Matrix are the same exact cars, made in the same exact factory, and use the same exact parts (i.e. exploding airbags).

This airbag defect is not isolated to just General Motors. As some of you might have been aware, Takata, an automotive parts company based in Japan, has been having some problems with its airbags. As you can see by this recall list from 2014 (which has grown significantly over the past year), these airbags pose a danger to more than just GM owners. To be perfectly frank about the dangers experienced by these drivers, Takata’s airbags have begun to serve as the equivalent of steering wheel mines. The propellant in some Takata inflators can burn too quickly, blowing apart a metal canister and sending shrapnel into the passenger compartment. The problem has been blamed for at least seven deaths and more than 100 injuries, and the numbers only continue to grow.

This latest recall just adds to what is now the largest automotive recall in U.S. history. In fact, Takata (Takata Corporation of Japan) agreed in May to double the size of its air bag inflator recall to 33.8 million. General Motor’s latest addition pushes that number above 34 million. In total, this massive airbag recall covers driver and passenger air bags in cars and trucks made by 11 automakers. If the sheer numbers aren’t enough to scare us as consumers, well, there’s more: Takata, the 11 automakers, and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration are all still trying to determine what exactly causes the inflators to malfunction.

So what do we do? Owners can find out if their car is part of the giant recall by going to https://vinrcl.safercar.gov/vin/ and keying in their vehicle identification number. The number is located on many state registration cards and is stamped on the dashboard near the bottom of the driver’s side windshield.

If you or a loved one has been injured by, or has otherwise experienced similar issues with, a faulty airbag, you have legal rights which can be asserted. Both the automaker and airbag company had a duty to produce products that are safe, and to correct all known safety defects as they are discovered. In a products liability lawsuit against automakers or airbag companies such as Takata, in which a defective part is responsible for your injury, you may be entitled to: 1) past and future pain and suffering, mental anguish, and physical impairment; 2) past and future medical, incidental, and hospital expenses; 3) past and future loss of earnings and earning capacity; and 4) punitive damages for egregious misconduct. In worst case scenarios, surviving family members of a killed driver or passenger may file a wrongful death suit against the auto manufacturer.