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Takata executives knew that the company’s airbags were defective as far back as 2000, according to court testimony provided earlier this year. The New York Times reported that while the company has consistently claimed its airbags are safe, the testimony shows the company may have discarded evidence that indicated otherwise.
According to the Times, a former airbag engineer with Takata, Thomas Sheridan, testified in a Florida court of law that the company not only altered test data to hide failures of the device from Honda (its biggest customer), a senior executive also ordered evidence of failures to be “discarded,” according to the article.
The article reported that in 2000, when ammonium nitrate was incorporated into the design of the airbags, failures were taking place during internal testing. The engineer was testifying in the case of a Florida woman who was paralyzed when the airbag in her Honda Civic deployed with too much force after a 2014 accident.
The engineer testified that he attempted to examine airbag components that had failed, but those parts had been thrown away – per the orders of the company’s VP of engineering at the time. This same executive has been linked to tests in 2004 that were also allegedly discarded.
Court documents acquired by the Times showed that Takata did not tell Honda of the failures. Rather, according to the documents, it tried to hide results showing that the ammonia nitrate added to the airbags could violently combust. As a result of this combustion, the casing of the airbag – also known as an “inflater,” – could rupture due to excessive pressure.
Exploding Takata airbag inflaters have been linked to 11 deaths and more than 100 injuries. The company was fined $70 million last year for not promptly disclosing airbag defects, and Honda dropped Takata after concluding the company had manipulated test results.
Even though millions of airbags have been recalled, millions more are still in vehicles. Automobile makes with Takata airbags include: