Patricia Mincey says in court documents that, instead of deploying normally, the driver-side airbag in her 2001 Honda Civic deployed with such force that it injured her neck and rendered her a quadriplegic.
The lawsuit accuses Takata and Honda of deliberately concealing information about the defect and taking belated action to protect Mincey and other motorists from airbags that may harm them instead of saving their lives. At least five deaths and 139 injuries have been linked to the flawed airbags in Honda vehicles.
"There is a systemic failure of these companies to come clean with information they know very early on of problems," Ted Leopold, Mincey's attorney, tells Autoblog. "Instead of doing the right thing, they try to sweep the problems under the rug until there are so many deaths and injuries they're left with no choice. We saw it with General Motors ignition switches, we saw it with the Toyota unintended acceleration cases and now we see it here."
Long History Of Takata-Related Recalls
Four days after Mincey's accident, Honda recalled her car as part of a 5,394,000-vehicle recall that sought to repair vehicles in which the airbag inflators could rupture. Her accident took place in Jacksonville, Florida, a state in which manufacturers have said high humidity could cause a heightened risk of problems for Takata airbags. She was wearing her seat belt at the time of the crash, according to court documents, and her car was traveling approximately 22 miles per hour.
Mincey remains hospitalized in a long-term care and rehabilitation facility near her Florida home, her attorney said. She is seeking compensation in excess of $15,000 for her injuries and punitive damages.
Problems with the Takata airbags were discovered as early as 2001, when Isuzu issued the first recall related to high-pressure deployments. But the company continued to manufacture defective airbags, which have subsequently been flagged in dozens of recalls over the past 14 years. Approximately 21 million vehicles have been affected in the United States.
Congress conducted hearings on the companies' delayed responses to the safety crisis last year. Last month, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration fined Honda $70 million because the company did not file 1,729 required reports that may have enhanced the information federal investigators had on hand to spot widespread defect trends.
Specifics Of Mincey Case Unusual
What's unusual about Mincey's injures in the context of others allegedly caused by Takata airbags is that her airbag housing and inflator remained intact. In other cases involving death and injury, the airbags exploded with such force that some of their components ruptured and sprayed vehicle occupants with metal shrapnel. In the most serious of those cases, that shrapnel damaged the eyes of victims or severed arteries in their necks.
"Everybody is focusing on the metal fragments, but the underlying reason why this occurs is the initiation of the over-excessive pressure," Leopold said. "The same mechanism of failure is applied."
Takata declined to comment on the lawsuit. It came amid more turmoil for the company. Honda executives said Friday the company would no longer use Takata, a global supplier of automotive safety devices, to manufacture airbags that will be used in the next-generation Honda Accord. Instead, Honda has selected a rival supplier.
Also Friday, a top Takata executive was indicted by a federal grand jury in Detroit. The Department of Justice alleges Hiromu Usuda conspired to fix the price of seatbelts over a six-year period. He faces a maximum punishment of 10 years in prison and a $1 million fine.