Ford Recalls Vehicles Over Airbag Concerns

On Behalf of | Mar 8, 2021 | Car Accidents, Products Liability

The automaker says that over 150,000 of its cars, trucks, and SUVs may have defective passenger airbags which could explode without warning.

According to Ford, some “obsolete” airbag parts may have made their way from a mechanic’s shelf into a customer’s vehicle. The automaker said it had identified part of the problem, but it was unable to trace about fifty airbag inflators which may be installed in vehicles made between 2004 and 2011. A corporate spokesperson assured customers that “the data Ford has reviewed indicates the likelihood of an airbag inflator rupture is very low and the airbag inflators will perform properly.”

Affected models include Rangers, Fusions, and Mustangs, as well as some Lincoln and Mercury vehicles.

Defective Takata Airbags

Each time it seems the book is closed on the Takata airbag saga, another chapter appears. Even now, according to one study, there are still sixteen million vehicles that have defective Takata airbags.

Legal responsibility has much to do with this figure. Manufacturers must only send recall notices to record owners. The record owner is usually the first owner. If a vehicle is more than five or six years old, it might be on its second or third owner. Some manufacturers say they go the extra mile to find actual owners and warn them of danger. But these efforts are largely marketing gimmicks.

Fortunately for defective airbag victims, the manufacturer’s duty of care is much higher in defective product claims. More on that below.

From a design standpoint, there is nothing wrong with an airbag’s design. There is no way to calculate how many lives these devices have saved since they first appeared in the 1970s. 

Takata’s airbags had a critical manufacturing defect. Frequently, product makers take shortcuts to reduce costs. That’s what happened here. In the late 1990s, Takata began replacing the reliable chemical propellant in its airbags with ammonium nitrate. This unstable chemical is basically the same thing which was in the Oklahoma City truck bomb. Takata executives knew the risk, but they made the switch anyway, because ammonium nitrate was cheap.

As these defective airbags killed more and more people, Takata eventually agreed to pay a huge fine and set up a victim compensation fund. More on that below as well.

Liability Issues

Manufacturers are strictly liable for any injuries their defective products cause. So, victims are technically entitled to compensation as a matter of law. However, there are some practical issues which often derail these claims.

The unforeseeable misuse defense is about the only effective defense to product liability claims. Falling off the top step of a ladder is a good example. Labels clearly warn people not to stand on the top step, due to the risk of a fall. However, this misuse is foreseeable. People inevitably stand on the top step. The misuse is only unforeseeable if the victim fell while doing a handstand on the top step, or something else like that.

The practical hurdles are especially an issue in dangerous drug and other dangerous consumer product claims. Victim/plaintiffs must establish a link between the product’s defect and their injuries. Manufacturers usually have a stable of experts who gladly testify that the product in question is safe. So, it’s hard to establish this connection.

The good news is that the burden of proof (a preponderance of the evidence, or more likely than not) is rather low. Thus, a little evidence goes a long way.

Damages Available

If a defective Takata airbag caused injury, the victim or survivor is entitled to compensation for economic losses, such as medical bills, and noneconomic losses, such as pain and suffering. Depending on the facts of the case, this compensation could be available from Key Safety Systems, the company which bought Takata, or from the aforementioned victim compensation fund.

Claims against a manufacturer follow the above guidelines. Claims against a VCF are considerably different.

Technically, VCF claims are not adversarial. The trustee who manages the VCF does not work for Takata, Key Safety Systems, or any other such company. However, fund trustees are notorious stingy. When the funds run out, they lose their jobs. So, many fund trustees try to make the funds last as long as possible.

So, victims need strong advocates in these situations. Trustees often try to convince victims to settle their claims for pennies on the dollar. Unless they have legal representation, these victims usually believe they must accept these offers.

Moreover, additional punitive damages are usually available in defective product claims. These damages convince the company to change the way it does business and put people before profits.

Defective products, like defective airbags, often cause serious injuries. For a free consultation with an experienced personal injury lawyer in Lexington, contact the Goode Law Office, PLLC. We routinely handle matters in Fayette County and nearby jurisdictions. #goodelawyers