Hawaii has filed the first state lawsuit against Honda Motor Co. Ltd. and its auto parts maker for intentionally selling cars that were made with dangerous air bags.
The lawsuit filed in First Circuit Court by the state Office of Consumer Protection for unfair and deceptive practices is seeking the maximum civil penalty of $10,000 per violation. It is also demanding that Honda launch a campaign to alert consumers about the dangers of the defective air bag and the need to seek repairs.
About 70,000 cars with Takata air bags have been sold to Hawaii consumers, though the state said it is not aware of any residents being harmed. Nationally, only one-third to half of these faulty air bags have been replaced.
Hawaii drivers are particularly at risk because of the state’s high temperatures and humidity, which could lead to built up pressure and cause the steel interiors of the air bags to burst, sending shrapnel through the vehicle.
Roughly a dozen individuals have been killed by metal debris when Takata air bags exploded in their cars and more than a hundred have been injured.
“Takata made the decision to switch to cheaper ammonium nitrate to inflate its air bags knowing the risk of the chemical used to propel rockets and for mining and demolition,” said Stephen Levins, executive director of the Office of Consumer Protection, at a press conference today. “Though Takata’s own testing showed that the ammonium nitrate propellant was unpredictable and prone to explode, Takata sold its air bags to automakers knowing they would be installed in vehicles and sold to consumers.”
In addition, Honda continued to sell cars with Takata air bags even when it became aware of the problem and failed to adequately pursue recalls in order to save money while “subjecting consumers to an ongoing risk of serous injury and death.”
“We have companies come into our state and try to take advantage of citizens and put them at risk. Takata and Honda put their own profits and reputations ahead of honesty and their customers’ safety,” Levins said. “There’s a situation that’s intolerable and we’re not going to put up with it. We intend to hold them accountable for their conduct.”
The complaint also names Takata Corp., who made the air bags, American Honda Motor Co. Inc., Honda of America Manufacturing Inc.
Levins said local dealerships have an obligation to fix the air bags, though many do not have sufficient quantity of parts in the islands. Honda owners may not be the only cars affected. Taketa at one time had a 25 percent market share, and at least 11 car manufactures are possibly affected, Levins said.
The state is urging consumers to check if their vehicles are affected at safercar.gov and to make an appointment to have their air bags replaced as soon as possible.
“This is a very, very serious public health issue,” Levins said. “There are serious consequences if this happens to someone.”