If an airbag recall led to injuries for you or someone close to you, there could be legal grounds to seek compensation from responsible parties.
When functioning as intended, airbags can be lifesavers, mitigating head injuries during vehicular accidents. However, if the inflator mechanism is flawed in its design, as we have in this case, it can inadvertently detonate, propelling fragments toward the driver or passenger’s head and neck. This can cause severe harm to vehicle occupants, including brain damage and death.
Should you or a loved one get injured because of a faulty recalled airbag, you might have a viable airbag lawsuit. The national mass tort lawyers at Miller & Zois are currently accepting airbag recall injury lawsuits. Contact us today at 800-553-8082 for a free consultation.
ARC Automotive, Inc. is a company that specializes in the design and manufacturing of inflators used in automotive airbag systems. They have been in the business for several decades and have manufacturing facilities in various parts of the world. Over the years, ARC Automotive has produced inflators for many major automotive manufacturers.
On April 27, 2023 the National Highway Traffic Administration, better known as NHTSA, notified ARC they had tentatively identified a defect related to the safety of vehicles equipped with ARC’s frontal driver and passenger airbag inflators. The issue potentially involved a staggering 67 million defective inflators found in vehicles from at least 12 major automobile manufacturers.
This defect was linked to a subtle flaw in ARC’s manufacturing process before they integrated borescopes in January 2018. With millions of these vehicles still actively being used, the implications were massive. Countless drivers and passengers were unknowingly traveling in cars that posed a significant threat to their safety.
So, what was the problem? At its heart, it was a tiny, seemingly insignificant detail. Inside the inflators, a loose piece of metal, often referred to as “flash” within industry circles, was found.
This loose weld could become a lethal issue during a car crash. The design of ARC’s inflator meant that the gas, which inflates the airbag, had only one path to travel. If this metal flash blocked that single ventilation port during an airbag’s deployment, the gas would build up, over-pressurizing the inflator.
The result? A rupture that could send metal shards flying into the car’s interior, risking grievous injury or even death to the vehicle’s occupants.
“Ticking Time Bomb”
NHTSA’s conclusion was unequivocal and damning. Such inflators, which could potentially hurl deadly metal fragments instead of ensuring passenger safety with an inflated airbag, were an undeniable defect. They were ticking time bombs, presenting an unreasonable risk of death or injury to millions of drivers and passengers.
How Airbags Work
Many airbag makers utilize a variant of guanidine nitrate as a propellant because it’s considered safer and more durable. A few manufacturers have chosen ammonium nitrate as a cost-saving alternative. While ammonium nitrate is a cheap explosive material, using it can be risky, as exemplified by its involvement in significant events like the Oklahoma City bombing.
Although safer and slightly more expensive alternatives are available, ARC continued using ammonium nitrate in its airbag propellants since 2001. This material can be hazardous, especially when subjected to temperature fluctuations common in vehicles. Experts in various fields deem the use of ammonium nitrate in airbags as excessively risky.
Issues with ARC’s design also emerge in their welding process. When joining inflator components, the friction welding process they use can create “weld flash.” If not properly managed, these fragments can obstruct parts of the inflator, leading to potential hazards. ARC’s choice of this welding process, which did not minimize or remove this flash, is seen as a design defect.
As usual, money and profits were in play here. Ammonium nitrate is approximately 30% cheaper than other propellant chemicals. Notably, while other manufacturers, like Autoliv Inc. and TRW, explored or initially adopted ammonium nitrate, they eventually abandoned it due to safety concerns. Yet, ARC persisted in its use.
Furthermore, in 2014, the dangers of using PSAN (phase-stabilized ammonium nitrate) as a propellant became public knowledge when Takata Corporation’s inflators, which used the same material, were linked to numerous injuries and at least 27 deaths worldwide. Despite this, ARC continued to use PSAN in their inflators.
Besides ARC, potential parties that can be held accountable in an airbag malfunction lawsuit might include the car manufacturer, the makers of the airbag, the dealership where the car was purchased, the dealership, maintenance, and other potential defendants as well depending on the facts. and other parties based on the specific details of the incident.
Common Injuries Caused by Defective Airbags
Defective airbags can cause a wide variety of injuries to drivers and passengers. When an airbag inadvertently deploys at high speed it can easily fracture bones and more. One of the most common types of airbag injuries our lawyers see are broken fingers or thumbs. This can occur when the driver has their thumbs or fingers resting on the center of the steering wheel when the airbag deploys. Common airbag deployment injuries include:
- Broken fingers and thumbs
- Facial trauma
- Orbital fractures
- Eye damage
- Rib fractures
- Burns and abrasions
- Cervical spine fractures
A study of NHTSA of crash data over a 14-year period found that there were 618 airbag-related injuries in the U.S. Of these injuries, 42% affected the face, 33% affected the upper limbs, and 9.6% affected the chest.
Who Is Eligible to File an Airbag Injury Lawsuit?
Anyone who suffered serious physical injuries as a result of a defective airbag that did function as intended is eligible to bring an airbag injury lawsuit. To succeed in a defective airbag injury case, a plaintiff will need to prove 2 key elements.
First, a plaintiff in an airbag case will need to prove that the airbag was somehow defective and did not function as it was designed to function when the incident occurred. If the airbag has been recalled, establishing that it was defective will be easy.
One key to establishing that the airbag was somehow defective will be showing that it deployed when it was not supposed to deploy. If the airbag deployed on impact during a serious car accident, then it probably functioned properly even if it caused some injuries.
Second, the airbag plaintiffs will need to prove that they suffered serious physical injuries as a direct result of the defective deployment of the airbag. The key here will be showing that the plaintiff’s injuries were caused entirely by the abnormal airbag deployment, and not as a result of the car accident.
The ideal airbag injury case would be one where the airbag inadvertently deployed, or deployed as a result of an accident that was not the plaintiff’s fault, and caused severe injuries that were clearly related to the airbag defects and not the accident.
Successful airbag defect lawsuits tend to possess several key factual elements:
- Clear Defect or Malfunction: There should be evident proof that the airbag did not deploy as intended. This might be an airbag that didn’t deploy at all, deployed at the wrong time, or even deployed with excessive force.
- Direct Link to Injury: The injuries suffered by the plaintiff should be directly traceable to the airbag’s malfunction. For instance, if the airbag failed to deploy during a head-on collision and the driver suffered severe head injuries as a result, the correlation is direct.
- Severity of Injury: More severe injuries, especially if they result in lasting impairment, disfigurement, or death, often form the basis for substantial claims. These injuries can have life-long implications, warranting significant compensation.
- Regular Maintenance & No Tampering: If the car has been regularly maintained and the airbag system hasn’t been tampered with or modified, it strengthens the case against the manufacturer or supplier of the defective airbag.
- Recall Notices: If the manufacturer had previously issued recall notices related to the airbag or if there are known issues with that specific airbag model, it can bolster the plaintiff’s case.
- Witness Accounts: Witnesses who can attest to the circumstances of the accident and corroborate that the injuries were indeed a result of the airbag defect can be very valuable.
- Manufacturer’s History: If the manufacturer has a history of similar defects, complaints, or previous lawsuits, it can provide a pattern of negligence or oversight.
Comparative or Contributory Negligence
One question that gets raised in an airbag defect lawsuit is whether contributory or comparative negligence during an accident’s occurrence is relevant in crashworthiness disputes, especially when a plaintiff claims strict liability, breach of warranty, and seeks damages solely in relation to their exacerbated injuries.
While there are jurisdictional differences (Delaware and Hawaii, for example), courts have generally been clear on this point: contributory and comparative negligence does not grant room for the negligence of any involved party—whether it’s the plaintiff or another defendant—in instigating the primary collision, to diminish the responsibility of a vehicle’s manufacturer for aggravated injuries in crashworthiness scenarios. This is because any supposed negligence in causing a car accident is legally distant from the escalated harm brought about by a defective component meant to shield in the event of a crash. So collisions are assumed, and heightened injuries can be predicted due to the design flaw, the initial cause or trigger of the accident becomes inconsequential.
The same logic would also apply if the driver was not wearing a seat belt in most jurisdictions because of a blanket exclusion of evidence regarding seat belts for contributory or comparative negligence.
What Types of Damages are Available in an Airbag Lawsuit?
Medical Expenses: Individuals injured by a defective airbag will be entitled to recover damages for all medical expenses that they incur as a direct result of injuries caused by the airbag. Plaintiffs are entitled to damages not just for past medical expenses, but also for future medical expenses they expect to incur if they are related to injuries suffered in the accident.
Lost Income: Plaintiffs can get compensation for any wages or income lost from injuries sustained in connection with the airbag. This includes both past and future lost wages/income. Lost income is also available for some family members in wrongful death cases.
Pain & Suffering: Damages can also be awarded for mental pain and suffering related to injuries caused by the defective airbag. The more severe and painful the injury, the more pain and suffering damages. The judge or jury determines pain and suffering damages if a case goes to trial.
How To See If Your Car Has a Recalled Airbag
If you want known whether the airbag in your vehicle has been recalled you can check the NHTSA’s airbag recall website and lookup your car by its Vehicle Identification Number (VIN). Alternatively, you can also contact you vehicle’s manufacturer to inquire if their car is part of an active recall.
Contact Us About Defective Airbag Lawsuits
Our firm is currently seeking defective airbag injury cases in all 50 states. If you have suffered injuries from a defective airbag, contact us online for a free consultation or call us at 800-553-8082.