Takata, Honda Face Class-Action Lawsuit Over Faulty Air Bags

(Los Angeles Times/MCT) -

The national law firm that negotiated one of the largest class-action settlements ever against an automaker has filed suit against Japanese auto-parts supplier Takata Corp. and Honda Motor Co. over the installation of faulty air-bag inflators in millions of vehicles in the United States.

The complaint, filed Thursday in federal court in Los Angeles by Hagens Berman Sobol Shapiro, seeks class-action status and claims that Takata cut corners to build cheaper air bags and that Honda purchased the parts to slice its manufacturing expenses.

The suit alleges “the result is that instead of saving lives, faulty Takata air bags in Honda automobiles are killing and maiming drivers and passengers involved in otherwise minor and survivable accidents.”

The lawsuit seeks to collect economic damages for vehicle owners — including reimbursement for the decline in value of millions of cars allegedly caused by the air-bag scandal.

The Berman firm has successfully negotiated similar claims, including a $1.6 billion class-action settlement with Toyota that is among the largest paid by an automaker. It applied to numerous suits claiming damages caused by safety defects related to incidents of unintended acceleration in the automaker’s vehicles.

Like this latest case, that lawsuit did not address personal-injury and wrongful-death claims.

The Seattle firm also was recently named co-lead counsel in the class-action lawsuit against General Motors Co. over faulty ignition switches and loss of vehicle value.

In the Takata case, the suspect air bags were assembled with or included parts made in two Takata factories in the U.S. and Mexico. They were installed in vehicles made by Honda, Toyota, Mazda, Nissan, Mitsubishi, Subaru, Chrysler, Ford and BMW — with Honda vehicles making up the bulk of the list.

Automakers have already recalled many of the cars with the suspect air bags.

“We’re talking about a critical vehicle safety component that makes the difference between life or death in an automobile accident,” said Steve Berman, managing partner at Hagens Berman. “Consumers deserve far more from Takata and Honda — two parties that have clearly let safety take a backseat to profits.”

The suit seeks to represent drivers who purchased or leased a Honda vehicle with a defective Takata air bag that has been subject to an air-bag-related warning or recall.

“Honda has not been served with the lawsuit and can’t comment on it at this time,” said spokesman Chris Martin. “We are focused on the core issue of repairing our customer vehicles.”

Martin said Honda owners who have received a recall notice should get their cars repaired.

Takata spokesman Alby Berman said, “Company policy is not to comment on ongoing litigation.”

Earlier this month, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration issued two rare alerts, telling owners that certain early 2000s models of vehicles made by Honda and other manufacturers were subject to explosions of their passenger-side air bags.

The first warning was for 4.7 million vehicles, with particular emphasis on cars in hot, humid climates, where the incidents are most frequent. Owners of the affected vehicles were told to see their dealers as soon as possible.

The second warning increased the number of affected vehicles to 7.8 million. It included stronger language encouraging owners of affected vehicles to stop driving their cars until they could be inspected by their dealers.

Vehicle owners concerned about their cars can visit NHTSA’s website and choose the “Search by VIN” option to use their car’s vehicle identification number to determine whether it is at risk.