An enforcement action filed this week by the V.I. government against Japanese auto parts maker Takata Corp. and Honda Motor Co. is seeking restitution and other fines that officials hope will keep the number of local injuries linked to the companies’ faulty airbags to a minimum.
Attorney General Claude Walker announced the filing at a press conference on St. Thomas on Thursday and urged residents to get better informed about a national airbag recall that affects at least 7,000 cars in the U.S. Virgin Islands.
According to internet reports, Takata has recalled more than 7.8 million air bags since 2013 and has recently added more to the list.
According to an article on Reuters.com, Takata faces an ongoing U.S. Justice Department criminal investigation. Both Honda and Takata also face class-action lawsuits from owners in a federal court in Miami, along with many other automakers that sold vehicles with Takata air bags. In May, Hawaii became the first state to sue the companies and Walker said Thursday that the territory is joining in the effort.
Takata agreed earlier this month to expand its U.S. recall of defective airbag inflators by 35 million to 40 million, adding to the 28.8 million U.S. airbag inflators already recalled. Of 13 deaths worldwide linked to defective Takata inflators, 12 have occurred in Honda vehicles and 10 in the United States. One death occurred in a Ford pickup involving a driver in Georgia in December, according to the Reuters report.
“According to an expert government report, Takata airbags develop problems most quickly in areas with high humidity and high temps,” Walker said Thursday. “For that reason, the Virgin Islands has been designated one of the U.S. jurisdictions with the highest priority recalls. V.I. residents with those airbags in their cars are at significantly greater risk of overaggressive combustion, rupture, and injury or death.”
One St. Croix resident was recently injured when her airbag ruptured, sending projectiles through the car that hit her body, Walker said. While the number of incidents locally is limited to one, Walker said the purpose of the suit is to force Takata to act so that nothing more happens.
“Many of the 7,000 vehicles with Takata airbags in the territory are older vehicles, meaning that they have been in sweltering conditions, persistent humidity, for years,” Walker said. “So each of these vehicles could have a ticking time bomb in the steering wheel or the dashboard.”
The government’s complaint asserts that Takata violated the territory’s Criminally Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act and committed fraud/created a public nuisance by installing the airbags. With the suit, the government is seeking restitution for local consumers affected, significant civil monetary penalties, full repayment of the company’s “unjust” profits, and an enhanced campaign to publicize the recall in the U.S. Virgin Islands.
Because the action is being filed by the local Attorney General’s Office, all citizens in the territory affected by the recall are covered, according to attorney Russell Pate, who has been hired as outside council to represent the U.S. Virgin Islands in the suit. Russell said the benefit of having the Attorney General’s Office bring the case is that no one has to “sign up” to be a part of the suit.
Licensing and Consumer Affairs Commissioner Devon Carrington also said Thursday that his agency is seeking consumer fines for the airbags, and urged residents to keep on top of the recall efforts by visiting the Safer Car website and checking to see if their vehicle is affected. DLCA, Motor Vehicles and the Attorney General’s Office will also have the link on their websites, but Walker said residents should check frequently as the lists continue to be updated.
Residents with vehicles on the list should make contact with their local dealer immediately, even if the car was not bought in the territory, Carrington said.
“They can provide you with more info and arrange to replace the airbag in the car,” he added. “Do not delay in having your airbag replaced. You don’t want to take a risk and have yourself subject to injury.”
Anyone that has an issue getting his or her airbag replaced should call DLCA immediately, Carrington said.