When Airbags Kill

Florida detectives were stumped by Hien Tran.  The 51-year-old Vietnamese woman’s Honda Accord had been involved in an accident on a rainy September evening as she drove home from her family’s nail salon, carrying $8,000 in cash.  Emergency personnel at the scene found her unconscious behind the wheel, still strapped into her seat belt.  Tran had several deep lacerations to her neck that looked like stab wounds, one of which had severed her trachea (windpipe). But the car’s windows were intact; there was no broken glass that could account for the cuts.  The investigators could not find evidence that anyone else had been in the car with Tran.  She died several days later without regaining consciousness, unable to explain the cause of her injuries or whether they were connected to the cash found in the car.

The mystery was solved about a week after Tran’s death on October 2 when her family received a recall notice from Honda inviting her to replace the Accord’s airbags.  Last June, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) announced that airbags manufactured by the Takata company had ruptured in at least six car crashes, sending metal pieces that were supposed to remain inside the airbag flying through the passenger compartment.  In two cases, the drivers’ necks were pierced by metal shards. One driver survived, but the other bled to death in front of her three children.  All six of the accidents that were reported by the NHTSA in June had occurred in Florida or Puerto Rico, and the NHTSA believes that the propellant used by Takata is more likely to become unstable and explode if the airbag was stored in hot, humid conditions over a long period of time.  The cash found in Tran’s car was a red herring – she died of stab wounds caused by her airbag exploding.

As a result of Tran’s death, federal safety regulators issued an unusual statement urging that the owners of the affected vehicles to “act immediately” to prevent a similar tragedy.  The recall now includes some 7.9 million vehicles produced by Honda, Ford, Chrysler, BMW, Nissan, Mazda, Mitsubishi and Toyota.  The manufacturers have already stated that they do not have enough replacement parts to fix all affected vehicles. Toyota has said that it might decide to disable the cars’ airbags and post a warning not to allow passengers to ride in the front seat until new airbags can be installed.  Honda has chosen not to inform all purchasers of its vehicles throughout the US until it has enough replacement parts to fix their cars, but it will prioritize cars in hot, humid states.

Air bags are designed to save lives, but sometimes they cause death or serious injury.  If you or someone you know may have been injured in a car accident, you should consult with a Florida law firm that has handled numerous cases involving defective airbags.

If you have any questions on this blog or need information on other personal injury queries, please call the Law offices of Lytal, Reiter, Smith, Ivey & Fronrath located in West Palm Beach at 1-800 4-RIGHTS  (1-800- 474-4487)  We welcome your call and look forward to helping you.