Beleaguered airbag maker Takata Corp. is facing fresh claims of collusion in its cover-up scandal, with lawyers alleging certain automakers knew the parts were dangerous but continued to use them.
Court documents filed in United States federal court in Miami claim five automakers were aware of potential defects but continued using Takata’s airbags because they were inexpensive. The allegations involving Ford, Honda, Nissan, Toyota and BMW were revealed the same day a U.S. federal court judge in Detroit accepted the firm’s $1-billion guilty plea for its role in a scheme cooked up to conceal defects in millions of airbag inflators.
The Japanese parts maker announced back in January that it had reached an agreement with the U.S. Department of Justice to plead guilty to one count of wire fraud for falsifying testing data provided to automakers regarding its airbag inflators. Takata will pay a $25-million criminal fine as part of the plea agreement. It will also establish two restitution funds: a $150-million one for victims and their families, and an $850-million one for affected automakers.
The company will appoint an independent monitor as part of the agreement. The monitor will be in place for three years and report directly to the federal justice department on Takata’s compliance with its legal obligations stemming from the case.
“Reaching this agreement is a major step towards resolving the airbag inflator issue and a key milestone in the ongoing process to secure investment in Takata,” company chairman and chief executive Shigehisa Takada said in a January statement. “Takata deeply regrets the circumstances that have led to this situation and remains fully committed to being part of the solution.”
The accepted plea deal officially puts an end to the justice department investigation into the largest ever automotive recall in the U.S. involving faulty airbag inflators. The company’s airbags, which are used in passenger vehicles around the world, contain a chemical that can degrade over time when exposed to hot and humid conditions. The resulting degradation can lead to explosions that have been blamed in at least 17 deaths.
The case will, however, continue to unfold, with a handful of state and civil lawsuits launched in the U.S. and elsewhere, including the one in Miami containing the claims leveled against the five automakers. None of the allegations have been proven in court.
[Source: The Associated Press]