Consumers may have felt some vindication after Takata settled with the feds earlier this month for $1 billion, but a new suit brought by the state of New Mexico shows the company’s troubles are far from over.
The state has filed a lawsuit against 15 car companies and Takata for allegedly covering up the fatal defect in its airbag inflators that led to the deaths of 11 people in the U.S.
“In New Mexico, no child should ever be put in danger so international corporations can reap enormous profits,” Attorney General Hector Balderas said. “New Mexico families’ health and safety have been put at dangerous risk by Takata and the automakers, and we will hold them accountable. Corporations who harm New Mexicans will pay for their actions no matter their size or location around the world.”
The suit claims that the company – along with Ford, Toyota, Honda, BMW, Mitsubishi, Subaru, Mazda, Volkswagen, Audi, Nissan, FCA, Ferrari, General Motors, Jaguar, and Mercedes-Benz – knew about the defect but misrepresented how dangerous it was.
“Under New Mexico law, Takata had, and has, a duty to ensure that its airbag systems work safely and as intended, and must not make false, deceptive, or misleading statements or omissions regarding them to any person, including the public and its commercial partners,” the suit states.
“Similarly, under New Mexico law, [the companies] had, and have, a duty to ensure their vehicles are safe and must not make false, deceptive, or misleading statements or omissions regarding their vehicles to any person.”
Misrepresenting a dangerous defect
However, state officials charge that Takata and the manufacturers failed in their duty, a fact that has led to the largest National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) recall in history. The New Mexico Attorney General’s office further claims that not disclosing the dangers of the airbag systems and vehicles violates the state’s unfair trade practices act.
The lawsuit claims that both Takata and the carmakers had ample time to publicize the airbag system issues, alleging that the problem was known to the former as early as the late 1990s.
“Yet Takata concealed its knowledge, repeatedly denying and obfuscating the existence of the defect from regulators and the public across the country, including in New Mexico,” the suit states. “Indeed, as alleged more fully herein, Takata has made a number of public statements denying or minimizing the defect and assuring the public of its commitment to driver safety, in full knowledge of the deadly consequences of its explosive airbag systems.”
Thousands in civil penalties per day
The suit is slightly more lenient on carmakers, admitting that Takata falsely represented its products when they were being bought. However, it says that some manufacturers learned about the defect well before the recall began and chose to do nothing.
The state is seeking civil penalties of $5,000 for each defective airbag that made its way into the state and $5,000 for each day the defendants concealed or misrepresented the defect from regulators and the public.
As we’ve reported previously, consumers should find out if their car is included in the recall by going to SaferCar.gov. Enter your Vehicle Identification Number (VIN) into the provided space to see if your vehicle has been part of a safety recall in the last 15 years.