Hawaii sues Ford, Nissan and Toyota over dangerous air bags

Stephen Levin
Stephen Levin, executive director of Hawaii's Office of Consumer Protection, gestures to photos of metal shards released when air bags exploded on Wednesday, May 24, 2017, in Honolulu. Hawaii is suing auto manufacturers Ford, Nissan and Toyota over air bags that can spew shrapnel when they deploy. The complaint filed Wednesday says the manufacturers knew or should have known for more than a decade that air bags installed in their cars posed serious and sometimes fatal danger. (AP Photo/Cathy Bussewitz)

HONOLULU (AP) — Hawaii is suing auto manufacturers Ford, Nissan and Toyota over air bags that can spew shrapnel when they deploy.

The complaint filed Wednesday says the manufacturers knew or should have known for more than a decade that air bags installed in their cars posed serious and sometimes fatal danger.

The automakers used air bags made by Japanese manufacturer Takata. At least 16 people have been killed worldwide and more than 180 have been injured because of the defect, which led to the largest automotive recall in U.S. history.

“They used it because it was cheaper,” said Stephen Levins, executive director of Hawaii’s Office of Consumer Protection. “It saved a few dollars for the car manufacturers to market this dangerous product to consumers here in Hawaii despite publicly available information that ammonium nitrate, this is a chemical principally used to propel rockets…was volatile and unpredictable.”

Levins compared the air bags to a hand grenade in the front of a car.

Spokesmen from Ford, Nissan and Toyota declined to comment on the lawsuit filed late Wednesday.

Hawaii residents are particularly vulnerable to defective air bags because the state’s humid climate and temperature changes can accelerate chemical breakdown, making the air bags more likely to explode, Levins said.

However, many car owners are unable to replace the air bags immediately because the dealers don’t have enough parts.

The lawsuit seeks damages of $10,000 per violation. It’s unclear exactly how many Ford, Nissan and Toyota vehicles in Hawaii contain the air bags, but Levins estimates more than 30,000.

Hawaii was the first state to sue Takata and Honda over defective air bags last year. That case is ongoing, despite an effort by Takata to have it dismissed, Levins said.

New Mexico sued Takata and a long list of automakers in January.