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From Products Liability Law Daily, December 1, 2014

NHTSA formalizes demand that Takata air bag recall be expanded nationwide

By Pamela C. Maloney, J.D.

In light of recent incidents involving ruptures of Takata driver’s side air bags outside of regions with high absolute humidity, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has demanded that Takata immediately submit to the agency a safety recall that is nationwide in scope. According to NHTSA, the current regional recall failed to mitigate these incidents (NHTSA Recall Request Letter, PE14-016, November 26, 2014).

Background. On June 11, NHTSA’s Office of Defects Investigation (ODI) opened a Preliminary Evaluation (see Products Liability Law Daily’s June 13 analysis) to investigate vehicle crash incidents resulting from the rupture of frontal driver and passenger side air bag inflators manufactured by TK Holdings, Inc. and/or Takata Corporation. When these inflators rupture, metal fragments are projected into vehicle occupants creating an unreasonable risk of death and injury. That same month, at NHTSA’s insistence, five auto manufacturers—BMW of North America, LLC; Chrysler Group, LLC; Ford Motor Company; American Honda Motor Company; and Mazda Motor Corporation— commenced regional recall campaigns for Takata driver’s side air bag inflators (types PSDI, PSDI-4, and PSDI-4K) installed in vehicles operating in areas of high absolute humidity. In mid-November (see Product Liability Law Daily’s November 19 analysis), NHTSA requested that the five auto makers expand their regional recall campaigns and conduct a nationwide recall of all vehicles equipped with these air bag inflators.

Recall request letter. According to NHTSA, “Despite the severe consequences of air bag ruptures and mounting data demonstrating a safety defect,” Takata disagres with NHTSA’s basis for a nationwide recall of driver's side air bags and continues to disclaim any finding of a safety-related defect. Thus, the company has not submitted the requisite Part 573 Safety Recall Report regarding these frontal driver's side air bag inflator ruptures.

Accordingly, NHTSA issued a recall request letter notifying Takata that it has concluded the driver’s side air bag inflator defect exists on a national basis and demanding that Takata issue a Part 573 Safety Recall Report addressing that defect. In addition, the agency advised Takata that it must not limit the scope of the defect to high absolute humidity regions because Takata has failed to provide any explanation to support its position that a regional recall was not appropriate. Further, the agency noted that Takata has not provided any explanation for driver’s side air bag ruptures that have occurred outside the areas of high absolute humidity.

Deadline and next steps. NHTSA warned that should Takata fail to submit the Part 573 Report by December 2, 2014, the agency might proceed to an Initial Decision that vehicles in which these air bags have been installed contain a safety-related defect. NHTSA also could begin proceedings to seek penalties and remedies authorized by law, subjecting Takata to civil penalties of up to $7,000 per violation (i.e., per vehicle).

Companies: TK Holdings, Inc.; Takata Corp.; BMW of North America, LLC; Chrysler Group, LLC; Ford Motor Co.; American Honda Motor Co.; Mazda Motor Corp.

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