Hawaii sues Takata, Honda over unsafe, defective air bags


HONOLULU (AP) — The state of Hawaii is suing Japanese manufacturer Takata over defective air bags they say threaten peoples’ lives.

The lawsuit filed Friday in the First Circuit Court of Hawaii also names auto manufacturer Honda.

Millions of Takata’s defective air bags have been recalled because their inflators can explode, spewing shrapnel in cars. Hawaii is the first state in the nation to sue over the air bags, which are blamed for at least 11 deaths worldwide and more than 100 injuries.

Independent reports have concluded that a chemical used in Takata air bags — ammonium nitrate — can degrade when exposed to heat and humidity, which can trigger explosions.

“We’re particularly vulnerable here in Hawaii to the defect that Takata has manufactured … we’re not going to wait until something like this happens,” said Stephen Levins, executive director of the Hawaii Office of Consumer Protection.

Takata switched to ammonium nitrate, a cheaper component for the inflator of the company’s air bags, despite the fact that it was widely known to be an unstable and dangerous chemical, Levins said. Honda was in a position where the company should have known what was going on, Levins said.

“Clearly Takata has engaged in a deceptive manner in marketing this, and actually has put profits, their own profits, over the personal welfare and safety of people around the United States, and around the world, and people here in Hawaii.” Levins said. “It’s a situation that’s intolerable, and we’re not going to put up with it.”

A call to Takata’s office in Los Angeles on Friday afternoon was not returned.

Honda hasn’t yet received the lawsuit so it can’t comment, said Chris Martin, a spokesman for American Honda Co., in an email. Martin said Honda is cooperating with the government on the Takata air bag inflator issue.

More than 70,000 cars containing Takata air bags have been sold in Hawaii, according to the complaint. The state is seeking penalties of $10,000 per violation.

Earlier this month, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration said it was adding up to 40 million air bags to the ongoing recall of 28.8 million air bags made by Takata.

“The dealerships have the obligation to fix this … Unfortunately, they don’t have sufficient quantities of parts on hand right now,” Levins said.

People can check whether their car is subject to the recall by visiting the federal website www.safercar.gov .

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Follow Cathy Bussewitz on Twitter at https://twitter.com/cbussewitz . Her work can be found at http://bigstory.ap.org/journalist/cathy-bussewitz .

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