The V.I. Department of Justice has settled a suit with Honda over Takata airbags, a settlement in which Honda agreed to provide the V.I. approximately 50 new Honda vehicles and a payment of over $1 million, according to a news release from Attorney General Denise George.
The case was one of several relating to cars fitted with Takata airbags sold in the territory. The airbags have been found to be faulty, leading to lawsuits throughout the nation and abroad. At least one Virgin Islander was reportedly injured by an exploding Takata airbag.
The territory sued Honda, and Takata settled in 2018. Hawaii and New Mexico joined the territory in their first suit against Takata in 2016, and Takata settled for $7 million in 2018. The USVI’s share of that was $1.5 million.
According to the Justice Department, as part of the settlement, Honda agreed to provide the Virgin Islands approximately 50 new Honda vehicles valued at over $2.1 million in addition to a payment of more than $1 million to the Virgin Islands government in the CICO and consumer lawsuit. The first set of vehicles recently arrived in the V.I. and the delivery of the remaining vehicles is in progress.
Vehicles have been assigned so far to the Department of Justice, as well as the Department of Licensing and Consumer Affairs and the Bureau of Motor Vehicles, both of which assisted in the lawsuit. Vehicles were also assigned to the Inspector General’s Office enforcement section.
“Although the terms of the settlement were substantially negotiated before I came on board as attorney general, I am pleased to have finalized what I deem to be a great settlement for the GVI in this government enforcement lawsuit. The receipt of these vehicles at no cost to the government will help to satisfy agency vehicle needs through replacing or building the fleet, without the associated purchase price, while saving on the costs of maintaining the older existing vehicles,” George said in a statement.
She said the cash proceeds will help pay for criminal, white-collar and consumer investigations, prosecutions and litigation support.
According to the Justice Department, the use of Takata’s airbags led to the largest recall in automotive history, involving more than 40 million vehicles in the U.S. and a $1 billion criminal plea agreement with the federal Department of Justice, and resulted in TK Holdings’ filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in 2017.
There are still many vehicles in the Virgin Islands equipped with Takata’s dangerous airbags. Airbags are one of the most critical safety devices in a car, the news release said, but the Department of Justice alleged that Takata airbags exposed a car’s occupants to serious danger. More than 200 Takata airbags have exploded violently, sending shrapnel throughout the vehicles and causing severe injuries and more than 20 deaths worldwide.
The Justice Department said residents of the Virgin Islands are particularly at risk from Takata airbags. High temperatures and high humidity can accelerate the breakdown of the chemical propellant used in Takata airbags and cause them to explode. The National Highway Transportation Safety Administration has required automakers to prioritize the recall of affected vehicles in the Virgin Islands and other jurisdictions with high heat and high humidity.
George urged consumers to visit the U.S. Department of Transportation website or contact their car dealer to determine whether their car is subject to a recall, to request required repairs, and to seek a replacement vehicle from the dealer until their airbag can be replaced or repaired.