The state of Hawaii filed a lawsuit Friday against the Japanese airbag manufacturer Takata Corp, as well as Honda Motor Co., over faulty airbags that have been linked to 10 deaths in the United States and three more elsewhere around the world. Asserting claims under the state’s consumer protection laws, Hawaii became the first state to take legal action against Takata and is seeking the maximum civil penalty of $10,000 for every affected car owner in the state.
The Office of Consumer Protection, under Hawaii’s Department of Commerce and Consumer Affairs, filed the lawsuit against Takata, its U.S. subsidiary TK Holdings, Honda Motors, American Honda Motor Co. and Honda of America Manufacturing Inc., according to a release on the state government’s website.
The lawsuit claims that “although safer alternative inflator propellants were available, and had been used by Takata from the time it first began manufacturing airbags in the 1980's, ammonium nitrate was much cheaper. Takata overrode these concerns and switched to ammonium nitrate as the propellant for its airbag inflators.”
An unidentified Takata engineer is also cited in the lawsuit, who allegedly warned a manager, saying: “If we go forward with [ammonium nitrate], someone will be killed.”
The complaint also targets Honda, the company most affected, other than Takata, by the ongoing recalls related to the airbags. The release says, “even when Honda became aware of the problems, it continued to sell cars equipped with Takata airbags and inadequately pursued recalls — saving money while subjecting consumers to an ongoing risk of serious injury and death.”
Given its high humidity and temperature, the faulty airbags pose a higher risk in Hawaii than in many other places, and the initial batch of recalls included the state. About 70,000 cars with Takata airbags have been sold to customers in the state, according to the release, which cited National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to say that up to half of those vehicles had been repaired or replaced.
“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,” Stephen Levins, Executive Director of the State Office of Consumer Protection, said.
Takata has recalled millions of airbags in the U.S. and around the world already, and the list is likely to get longer. Honda posted a loss for the first quarter of 2016 in results announced Friday due to costs associated with massive airbag-linked recalls.