Ford Motor Company is the defendant in a proposed class action filed in Oklahoma over the automaker’s sale of vehicles it allegedly knew were equipped with defective Takata airbags. The 33-page lawsuit alleges Ford and non-party Takata Corporation knew “at least 17 years ago” that the latter’s airbags were defective yet “did nothing to prevent ongoing injury and loss of life.” According to the plaintiff, Ford drivers, despite a proliferation of vehicle recalls related to the potentially fatal problem, have “found themselves in the frightening position” of having to drive their vehicles while they wait for the Detroit automaker to replace defective Takata airbags.
“As a result, many consumers were effectively left without a safe vehicle to take them to and from work, to pick up their children from school or childcare, or, in the most urgent situations, to transport themselves or someone else to a hospital,” the lawsuit reads.
Takata airbags shared the same common defect, the case explains: ammonium nitrate. The “notoriously volatile and unstable compound,” the suit explains, was used as the propellant for the inflator responsible for activating upon vehicle impact. When an airbag works correctly, the case states, an inflator ignites in the milliseconds following a crash, expanding and deploying the airbag. Takata’s airbags, however, were prone to “violently explode using excessive force” and expel metal debris and shrapnel into the vehicle cabin and upon occupants, the case states. In other instances, the lawsuit continues, Takata’s airbags failed to deploy at all, or “hyper-aggressively” deployed and caused serious injury due to an occupant’s contact with the airbag.
As the lawsuit tells it, Takata, which filed for bankruptcy in 2017, “cut corners to build cheaper airbags” that were in turn bought by Ford and the world’s top automakers. The lawsuit stresses that rather than save lives, Takata’s airbags ended up killing and maiming vehicle occupants who were “involved in otherwise minor and survivable accidents.” For its part, Ford allegedly bought Takata airbags for its vehicles despite possessing knowledge that the component used ammonium nitrate as its primary inflator propellant.
The lawsuit describes an alleged 10-year pattern of “deception and obfuscation” by Ford and Takata that supposedly bled beyond the automaker’s $299.1 million settlement in 2018 to cover economic damages stemming from the defective inflators. It was early this year that Ford expanded its recall of vehicles equipped with a defective Takata airbag inflator, the lawsuit states, painting the picture of a relationship between the defendant and Takata similar to that between the Japanese company and other automakers. Rather than face the defective airbag crisis head-on, the defendant and Takata allegedly chose to operate as usual.
“Instead, they brushed it under the rug: Takata kept making defective airbags; and Honda and other vehicle manufacturers like Ford kept putting them in its vehicles while marketing them as highly safe and of high quality,” the complaint reads.
The plaintiff stresses that Ford “knew or should have known” that hundreds of thousands of its vehicles were equipped with defective Takata airbags. Speaking to the alleged collusive relationship between Takata and Ford, the case says the defendant showed “a blatant disregard for public welfare and safety” by concealing the nature and extent of the airbag defect while continuing to advertise its vehicles as safe and reliable.
“Instead, Ford put profits ahead of safety,” the case reads.
The complaint states that the following vehicles models were subject to Ford’s expanded recall as they were equipped with Takata airbag inflators:
2007-2010 Ford Edge
2006-2012 Ford Fusion
2005-2006 Ford GT
2005-2014 Ford Mustang
2004-2011 Ford Ranger
2007-2010 Lincoln MKX
2006-2012 Lincoln Zephyr/MKZ
2006-2011 Mercury Milan
Ford’s settlement aside, six other car companies—Honda, Toyota, Nissan, Mazda, Subaru and BMW—have reportedly agreed to Takata airbag settlements eclipsing a combined $1.2 billion. To date, at least 24 deaths have been linked to defective Takata airbags, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).