By Jon Hood

May 19, 2010
A Washington state couple has filed a class action lawsuit against BMW, alleging that the airbags on their 2000 BMW 323i deployed without warning, causing the driver serious injuries.

According to the suit, Dori Richardson was driving the BMW on February 15 on a clear smooth roadway [with] no bumps, potholes or debris, when both driver's side airbags went off. The incident caused Richardson serious internal, orthopedic and head injuries, from which she has not fully recovered.

The suit is a fresh reminder of BMW's airbag struggles. In 2002, BMW recalled 1999 and 2000 3-Series models, warning that the side air bag system could deploy in certain non-crash impacts, such as when contacting large potholes or curbs at substantial speeds. In an attempt to remedy the defect, the 2002 recall said that dealers will recalibrate the central air bag control module to reduce the possibility of such a non-crash deployment.

In August 2008, BMW recalled 200,000 cars and SUVs for the opposite reason: the possibility that the front passenger airbags will not deploy even if a sufficiently severe accident would occur. That problem was remedied with an updated sensor in the passenger seat.

The website for the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) is still peppered with reports of BMWs with airbags that deployed for no apparent reason. Several of those complaints are for 2000 BMW 3-series models, the same as the car at the center of the lawsuit. has also received complaints from several BMW owners whose airbags have deployed without provocation.

As Charles of Bayside, NY writes:

"Drove 2003 BMW 330xi, hit pothole on left side of car, side passenger airbag shortly after suddenly deployed. Passenger burned arm through incident, top part of air bag did not even inflate but had a huge hole in fabric. White dust filled car, burned both driver and passenger eyes, and made it impossible to see. Had to quickly pull over all the way from left lane while driving blindly and eject out of car."

Jason of San Francisco had a similar experience:

"Last night I was driving home from San Jose to San Francisco when my 2005 330ci, meticulously maintained, had its drivers side, side curtain airbags deploy for no reason! I was so scared I was able to pull over right away. I got out to assess my car for damage as I didnt know what happened, it it was completely fine! I will be taking it in on Monday and BMW better be covering it, or I will file a lawsuit!"

The suit, filed in Washington Superior Court for King County, says that the problem stems from an unspecified design defect. The complaint seeks economic damages [and] general non-economic damages in [an] amount to be proved at trial.

The suit also seeks damages for loss of consortium, companionship, and service on behalf of William Richardson, Dori's husband. The suit is being handled by Paul Whelan of Seattle-based Stritmatter Kessler Whelan Coluccio.