DETROIT/NEW YORK (Reuters) - Honda Motor Co (7267.T) failed to notify U.S. safety regulators of 1,729 claims of injuries and deaths related to accidents in its vehicles since 2003, the automaker acknowledged on Monday.
The Japanese automaker said in a statement that its count of underreported claims came from a third-party audit. Honda cited "various errors related to data entry" and said it used an "overly narrow interpretation" of its legal reporting requirements. It said it is taking steps to remedy these shortcomings.
"I haven't got a detailed report yet, but it seems there were a lot of administrative mistakes on the ground," Honda CEO Takanobu Ito told reporters at a corporate event in southern Japan on Tuesday.
Honda's U.S. arm responded to a Nov. 3 order from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), seeking an explanation for why Honda failed to fulfill its legal obligation to report deaths and injuries, especially those involving air bags.
Honda and Japanese supplier Takata Corp 7312.T have been at the center of investigations of defects in Takata air bags. Since 2008, Honda has recalled more than 7.5 million U.S. cars because defects can cause the inflators in some Takata air bags to rupture, spraying metal shards into vehicle occupants.
Asked what Honda had made of an early, pre-recall Takata air bag accident, in 2004, Ito said: "We don't have knowledge of inflators but ... it was difficult to foresee that it would expand" to similar accidents or recalls.
NHTSA sent a second order to Honda on Nov. 5, seeking details and documents related to the air bags and inflators.
Honda sent its response on Monday to NHTSA's first order. A summary of that response was read out by Rick Schostek, executive vice president of Honda North America, on a conference call with reporters, though he declined to take questions. Schostek testified last week at a U.S. Senate Commerce Committee hearing on Takata air bags.
In the 'early warning' reporting data required by U.S. law, Honda failed to disclose eight incidents of ruptured Takata inflators that resulted in one death and seven injuries, Schostek said. The company said it provided details of those incidents to NHTSA outside the 'early warning' reporting process.
Japanese Transport Minister Akihiro Ohta said on Tuesday his ministry set up a task force late last week to deal specifically with Takata's recalls. The ministry is also looking into whether Honda underreported incidents in Japan, an official said.
Separately on Monday, a lawsuit was filed in South Carolina federal court tying a Takata air bag to the 2008 death of Mary Lyon Wolfe in a 2002 Honda Accord. The lawsuit said the air bag in Wolfe's car "deployed with excessive force" and caused grave injuries. Wolfe died 18 days later from her injuries, it noted.
A Takata spokesman declined to comment. A Honda spokesman said the company had not yet been served with a copy of the lawsuit and declined to comment on its specifics.
Also on Monday, the Senate requested additional air bag-related documents from Takata "to gather information that could address questions left unanswered" at last week's hearing.
Additional reporting by Maki Shiraki in KUMAMOTO, Japan and Mari Saito in TOKYO; Editing by James Dalgleish, David Gregorio and Ian Geoghegan