A trove of e-mails from Takata, a major airbag manufacturer whose products have been blamed for many deaths, were recently unsealed from court order. Those emails clearly show that the airbag manufacturer engaged in data manipulation relating to the consistency and quality of its airbags and their inflators. Many lawsuits against Takata claim that its airbags were defective because instead of inflating in a quick but controlled way, they actually exploded, causing shrapnel injuries to vehicle occupants.
Email from Takata airbag engineer Bob Schubert dated July 6, 2006 to another engineer
One of the engineers e-mails was entitled “Happy Manipulating!!!” That e-mail was sent by a Takata airbag engineer named Bob Schubert on July 6, 2006, and refers to results of airbag tests.
While many business organizations complain about frivolous lawsuits, the fact remains that lawsuits are one of the most important tools which society has to hold manufacturers accountable for the products they sell. Without product liability lawsuits, companies like Takata would have no financial incentive to reform their ways and improve their products.
Additionally, product liability lawsuits are the way that systemic defects get exposed. Takata is only getting the press it is currently receiving because of the efforts of plaintiff’s lawyers in several lawsuits which first brought these airbag defects to light. Similarly, General Motors recent massive recalls over its defective ignition switches was only exposed through wrongful death lawsuits filed by the families of people who died in crashes caused by the defect. It’s also important to note that General Motors (like the vast majority of companies in this situation) repeatedly denied that its products were defective until the evidence unearthed by plaintiffs’ lawyers became overwhelming. (Even at that point, General Motors tried to avoid liability by hiding behind its recent bankruptcy, claiming that the bankruptcy process had terminated the injury victims’ rights to sue.)
An article from the New York Times giving extensive details on the recalls, e-mails and the whole sordid history of the Takata episode can be found here.