The recall — the largest in history — involves airbags manufactured by Takata Corp. and used in 50 models of vehicles made by General Motors, Ford, Chrysler, Toyota, Nissan, Honda, Mazda, Mitsubishi, Subaru and BMW. Most recently, in January 2018, Ford Motor Co. urged thousands of owners to stop driving immediately and get replacement parts upon confirming that a death in a 2006 Ford Ranger was caused by a defective Takata inflator. Most of the deaths have occurred in Honda vehicles. (See news story)
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The latest confirmed airbag-related death occurred in West Virginia and was the second in an older model Ford Ranger. The other 19 deaths reportedly occurred in Honda vehicles. But that didn't stop other car companies from issuing recalls. In the same week as Ford's latest announcement, Mazda Motor Corp. said it would conduct a similar recall and "stop-drive" warning for some of its 2006 Mazda B-Series trucks, which are similar to the Ranger and were built by Ford.
Lawsuits have been filed against Takata with claims that the manufacturer knew of the defect in its airbags for years. At least one car company, Honda, also was aware of the problem, according to published reports.
While intended to protect drivers and passengers, airbags have been the subject of recalls for years because of various defects. Among the problems are airbags that fail to deploy, open too slowly or do so prematurely or with too much force.
Because airbags must inflate very rapidly to be effective – generally at speeds greater than 100 m.p.h. – they are thrust from a steering wheel or dashboard with terrific force. That force may result in injury. In the case of the recent massive recall, injuries from metal shards can resemble stab wounds. In one reported case, a driver’s death was initially investigated as a homicide.
Other airbag injuries include burns or bruises, facial lacerations and abrasions, and ruptured eyeballs, causing blindness.
In past cases, victims of defective airbags have successfully sued auto manufacturers for their injuries. In one, a jury found Ford Motor Co. negligent and awarded $3.3 million in the case of a woman who suffered fatal chest injuries when the airbag in her Ford Taurus deployed in a low speed (9 m.p.h.) accident.