Honda to pay millions to states for allegedly concealing knowledge about faulty airbags

Consumer Report

SAVANNAH, Ga. (WSAV) – Honda America is paying $85 million to 45 states for allegedly hiding safety defects in Takata airbags installed in its vehicles.

The state of Georgia will receive $3 million of that settlement.

“Marketing its vehicles as safe, despite numerous signs that these airbags posed a significant threat to consumers, was wrong,” said Attorney General Chris Carr. “Our office will remain vigilant as we continue to protect Georgians from unlawful actions that pose a threat to their health and safety.”

Carr’s office said the legal action was taken over allegations that Honda concealed safety issues related to defects in the frontal airbag systems installed in certain Honda and Acura vehicles sold in the United States. It said the systems were designed and manufactured by Takata Corporation, a long-time Honda supplier, and were first installed in Honda vehicles in the 2001 model year.

The issue involved airbags that could explode upon impact and send out metal parts to fly into the passenger compartments of many Honda and Acura vehicles. The ruptures have resulted in at least 14 deaths and over 200 injuries in the United States alone, according to Carr’s office.

In Savannah, Stephen Lowry, an attorney who specializes in product liability cases, was not involved in the lawsuit but has studied the Takata case extensively commented on the settlement.

“I think the hope is that this will make auto products safer for families to be in and that’s a good thing,” Lowry told News 3. “But it feels like kind of a slap on the wrist to a manufacturer like Honda who certainly knew about the dangers of the airbags well before the public did and didn’t disclose it.”

Lowry says Honda makes billions each year and said that “even though Honda knew this could cost lives they were not replacing the airbags.”

Information indicates that in 2008, Honda began recalling some vehicles with potentially dangerous airbags.

“I think it’s a good thing that the states took some action but probably, we wish it had been a little bit stronger,” said Lowry.

Lowry says providing enforcement to hold Honda accountable will be the key to making the settlement work. He expressed concerns in that area saying that federal safety regulators are dealing with fewer staff these days.

“All of the tests as to whether (a product) meets the federal regulations — those are all self-certifying tests so basically, it’s American Honda, for example, saying, ‘yes we meet this test’ but nobody is coming from the government or any other agency to say or to ensure that they’re actually meeting these tests,” he said, “they’re just trusting Honda’s word.”

The states have alleged that Honda’s actions violated state consumer protection laws. The settlement (according to Georgia Attorney General’s office) also requires that Honda:

** Take steps to ensure that future airbag designs include “fail-safe” features to protect passengers in the event the inflator ruptures.

** Adopt changes to its procurement process for new frontal airbags, to ensure that its suppliers have the appropriate industry certifications and satisfy key industry performance standards, as well as improve record-keeping and parts tracking.

** Implement recurrence prevention procedures designed to prevent a tragedy like this from ever happening again, such as requiring that Honda approve all new frontal airbag designs before the company will consider them for use in new Honda vehicles.

** Abide prohibitions on misleading advertisements and point of sale representations regarding the safety of Honda’s vehicles, including the airbags.

** Make improvements in critical areas such as risk management, quality control, supplier oversight, training and certifications, and implementing mandatory whistleblower protections.

Consumers who own a Honda or Acura vehicle are strongly encouraged to visit Honda’s airbag recall website or call its Customer Service toll-free number at (888) 234-2138, to see if their vehicle is subject to a recall. Consumers may also check for open recalls by going to Safercar.gov. All safety recall repairs are free at authorized Honda dealers.

Consumers can also contact the Georgia Department of Law’s Consumer Protection Division at (404) 651-8600 with any questions about this settlement.

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