Takata must save faulty air-bag inflators for litigation, U.S. probe

Wed Feb 25, 2015 7:03pm EST
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By Bernie Woodall and Eric Beech

DETROIT/WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A U.S. safety regulator on Wednesday ordered Takata Corp (7312.T: Quote) to preserve all air-bag inflators removed through a recall process as evidence for a federal investigation and private litigation cases.

It was the first time the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, an agency of the U.S. Department of Transportation, has ordered a company to preserve evidence for private litigation, said Gordon Trowbridge, a spokesman for NHTSA.

The defective parts, which activate air bags in case of collision - have been linked to at least six deaths and dozens of injuries, and have resulted in several lawsuits. NHTSA claims the air bags explode with too much force, spraying metal fragments at occupants.

On Friday, NHTSA slapped a $14,000-a-day fine on Takata for failing to fully cooperate with the government's probe. Since 2008, nearly 25 million vehicles worldwide with Takata air bags have been recalled.

The directive from U.S. Secretary of Transportation Anthony Foxx also prohibits Takata from destroying or damaging any air-bag inflators except those necessary for testing. Takata is required to set aside 10 percent of recalled air-bag inflators and make them available for testing by private plaintiffs.

NHTSA wanted to ensure that all parties testing the inflators including itself, Takata, a consortium of automakers as well as private litigants could have access to them.

Several weeks ago, a federal judge in South Carolina had limited access to inflators at the request of private litigants, but opened access to parties testing them at the request of the Justice Department.

A Florida attorney who represents a client suing Takata, said a U.S. Department of Justice attorney appeared as an interested party at a recent hearing in Miami where scores of federal cases against Takata have been consolidated.   Continued...

A visitor walks past displays of Takata Corp at a showroom for vehicles in Tokyo November 5, 2014. REUTERS/Toru Hanai