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Lawsuit alleges 3 automakers knowingly sold airbags that could potentially explode fatally – Boston News, Weather, Sports

DETROIT (AP) — A class-action lawsuit alleges three automakers and a parts maker knowingly selling vehicles with airbag inflators exploding. Two deaths and at least four injured were linked to such explosions.

The federal lawsuit, filed Tuesday in San Francisco, names ARC Automotive Inc. of Knoxville, Tennessee, which manufactured the inflators and sold them to airbag manufacturers. The airbag makers, in turn, sold them to General Motors, Ford and Volkswagen, also named in the lawsuit.

The five plaintiffs are owners of vehicles with ARC inflators who claim the defective airbag parts were not disclosed at the time of purchase.

The US National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, which has been investigating ARC inflators without a warrant for nearly seven years, estimates there are 51 million on US roads. That is between 10% and 20% of all passenger cars.

However, most drivers have no conclusive way of determining if their vehicle contains an ARC inflator. Even if they ripped the steering wheel assembly apart, the internal parts could only bear the automaker’s or airbag manufacturer’s markings, not the inflator manufacturer’s.

“You could have a ticking time bomb in your lap and you have no way of knowing,” said Frank Melton, a Florida attorney who is among those filing the new lawsuit.

One of the fatalities was a mother of 10, who died in what appeared to be an otherwise minor crash in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula last summer. Police reports show that a metal fragment from the inflator struck her neck in a crash involving a 2015 Chevrolet Traverse SUV.

In a statement Tuesday, GM said it has not had an opportunity to review the lawsuit. It said it is committed to the safety of its products and customers and is cooperating with the NHTSA in its investigation.

Messages were left for comment from ARC and Ford. Volkswagen declined to comment.

Plaintiffs allege that ARC’s inflators use ammonium nitrate as a secondary fuel to inflate the airbags. The propellant is compressed into tablets, which can expand and develop microscopic holes when exposed to moisture. Degraded tablets have a larger surface area, causing them to burn too quickly and ignite too large an explosion, the lawsuit says.

The explosion can rupture a metal canister containing the chemical and eject metal fragments into the cabin. Ammonium nitrate, used in fertilizers and as a cheap explosive, is so dangerous that it can burn too quickly even in the absence of moisture, the lawsuit says.

Plaintiffs allege that ARC inflators blew apart seven times on US roads and two more times during testing by ARC. To date, there have been five limited inflator recalls totaling approximately 5,000 vehicles, including three recalls by GM.

Auto safety advocates say the case appears to mirror the Takata Airbag saga that began in the early 2000s, which included exploding airbag inflators and resulted in 28 deaths worldwide, hundreds of injuries, and the largest automobile recall in U.S. history. So far, NHTSA has gathered information but has not forced broader recalls from its investigation, which began in July 2015.

Sean Kane, president of Safety Research & Strategies Inc., which conducts research for attorneys who sue automakers and other groups, noted that just like in the early stages of the Takata ordeal, many ARC ammonium nitrate inflators continue to be used .

“It’s almost Groundhog Day here,” said Kane, who claims NHTSA should have acted by now. “It’s not about whether it can kill or hurt people. It already has.”

ARC, the lawsuit alleges, was aware of the hazard of ammonium nitrate in patent applications it filed in 1995 and 1998. In 2019, after several ARC inflators blew apart, ARC acknowledged that its use for automotive airbags was unacceptable, according to the lawsuit.

The lawsuit alleges that General Motors, which began recalling Takata ammonium nitrate inflators in 2013, should have known that ARC’s inflators were also unstable.

“GM has only recalled a small number of vehicles that contained a particularly large number of inflators, despite the fact that driver and passenger ARC inflators were also known to be cracked in various models and model years from 2002 through at least 2015,” the statement said Legal action .

In its Tuesday statement, GM said it makes recall decisions based on facts and figures. It declined to comment further.

The lawsuit alleges that ARC’s inflators are affected by a systemic problem and not just a localized manufacturing defect. In 2014, an ARC inflator in a 2004 Kia ​​Optima exploded in an accident in New Mexico, injuring the driver.

Two years later, the driver of a car belonging to Kia’s sister automaker Hyundai in Canada was killed when an ARC inflator exploded in an accident.

The lawsuit also names Volkswagen and Ford as defendants, alleging they represented the airbag inflators as safe even though they knew they were dangerous.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration began investigating ARC inflators in 2015 after an Ohio woman was injured when an inflator in a Chrysler minivan exploded. At the time, the agency estimated there were 490,000 ARC inflators on the country’s roads.

The review was elevated to a technical analysis after the death in Canada in 2016 — one step closer to a product recall.

Though a seven-year investigation takes longer than most NHTSA reviews, inflators are particularly complex, said David Friedman, a former acting NHTSA administrator who is now a vice president at Consumer Reports.

Automakers seem to shy away from recalls because of cost concerns, Friedman said. And NHTSA, he suggested, needs a “slam dunk” case before requesting recalls over threats and lawsuits automakers have filed in the past.

“That’s one of the things that’s broken in the system,” he said.

Friedman described the NHTSA as a chronically underfunded agency that had to prioritize safety issues after four years of the Trump administration demanding far less government regulation.

“The fact that it stretches out to seven years, the companies should have blinked, or NHTSA should have made them, or if they really don’t have a case, then say it,” Friedman said.

An NHTSA official, who spoke on condition of anonymity to speak freely about an ongoing investigation, said the investigation continued because of the complexity of the airbag inflators and because ARC’s design differs from Takata’s .

“We want to make sure what we’re doing is thorough,” he said.

He pointed out that ARC’s NHTSA investigation needed to examine different issues than the Takata case. For example, ammonium nitrate in Takata’s inflators would degrade if moisture from the air entered the canister. But ARC pressurizes its inflation canisters to keep moisture out.

“It’s not similar to Takata,” the official said.

Whether the ammonium nitrate tablets can deteriorate without moisture is still being investigated, he said.

The agency, he said, has pulled ARC inflators from vehicles to learn how they work. It has also collected production and other data from ARC and automakers, and issued an executive order requiring automakers to report any problems with ARC inflators.

He noted that several years passed without incident before there were three in the last two years and that each of those cases is included in the investigation.

(Copyright (c) 2022 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, transcribed or redistributed.)

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https://whdh.com/news/lawsuit-claims-3-automakers-knowingly-sold-air-bags-at-risk-to-fatally-explode/ Lawsuit alleges 3 automakers knowingly sold airbags that could potentially explode fatally – Boston News, Weather, Sports

Nate Jones

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