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Automakers Are Still Selling Vehicles With Potentially Deadly Airbags

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Our Long Island defective auto lawyers look into why automakers are still selling vehicles with potentially deadly airbags.

Despite the largest vehicle recall in history, and some of the largest fines in history, vehicles with defective airbags are still rolling off the assembly line and into Long Island driveways.

According to a Congressional report, Mitsubishi, Volkswagen, Chrysler/Fiat, and Toyota are all selling passenger cars with airbags that have no chemical drying agents. Without these additives, the airbag propellant burns faster in high heat and humidity environments, so when the airbags deploy, they explode rather than expand. The resulting shrapnel has been linked to 13 deaths and more than 100 injuries around the world.

The automobile manufacturers claimed that supply-chain issues forced them to continue selling the defective automobiles, and airbag maker Takata says it is “working aggressively” to remedy the problem, but lawmakers are neither sympathetic nor impressed.  “These cars shouldn’t be sold until they’re fixed,” bluntly stated Senator Bill Nelson (D-FL).

Ford announced that it will recall at least an additional 1.9 million vehicles. And, after Takata bowed to pressure to expand the definition of “defective airbags,” eight manufacturers said they would recall a collective 12 million vehicles. In the U.S. alone, more than 70 million vehicles have been recalled to date.

Defective Automobiles

Prior to the ongoing Takata airbag saga, one of the most famous cases of automakers putting profits before people was the Ford Pinto case in the 1970s. Facing intense competition from smaller and more economical foreign and domestic cars, then-Chairman Lee Iacocca ordered engineers to create a vehicle that weighed no more than 2,000 pounds and cost no more than $2,000. To conserve both weight and money, designers placed the fuel tank between the rear bumper and the rear axle, so even in low-speed collisions, the fuel tank ruptured and gas often exploded.

In 1973, a whistleblower produced a memo which was supposedly used at a corporate meeting. It estimated that it would have cost about $11 per car ($137 million total) to make the vehicles safe, and it would cost about $50 million to settle wrongful death and personal injury lawsuits. Ford chose the lower-cost route, the government investigated, and Ford wound up recalling millions of vehicles due to defective products.

Legal Issues

Unless it is expressly disclaimed with language like “as is” and “no warranty,” all vehicles come with an implied warranty of merchantability. Specifically, new vehicles must be:

  • Fit for Ordinary Purposes: Consumers have the right to expect that new cars are safe, efficient, and free from defect.
  • Accurately Packaged: If the sticker says that the car comes with antilock brakes, the vehicle must have antilock brakes, or else it is a defective product.
  • Delivered as Promised: While there is a difference between sales puffery and affirmations of fact, in most cases, if the dealer makes a claim about a vehicle, that claim must be true.

If a car, truck, or van falls short of the implied warranty because of a defect that occurred during design or manufacturing, the automaker may be liable for damages. In the event of a design defect, some jurisdictions require that the plaintiff prove that a reasonable alternative design was available.

Defective products injure or kill thousands of consumers every year. For a free consultation with an experienced personal injury lawyer in Long Island, contact the Law Office of Cohen and Jaffe, LLP. We don’t charge upfront for any legal fees in cases regarding personal injury.

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