The lawsuit by Brandi Owens, filed in late April in federal court
in Atlanta against GM and Takata, claims her car and driver-side air
bag were "defective and unreasonably dangerous," citing a problem
that has dogged Takata for several years - air bag inflators that
explode with too much force. More than 10.5 million vehicles with
Takata air bags have been recalled globally.
Owens, 25 at the time of the October 2013 accident, is seeking
Owens' attorney declined to comment on the lawsuit. Takata's U.S.
spokesman did not return calls and emails seeking comment.
In documents filed on Thursday with the National Highway Traffic
Safety Administration, GM said it had learned of a lawsuit on May 1
regarding a Chevrolet Cruze with an improperly deployed air bag. GM
inspected the vehicle four days later and briefed officials at the
U.S. safety agency in late May and twice in early June.
GM did not identify the lawsuit in its filing, but a source familiar
with the matter said it was the Owens case.
NHTSA said it was aware of GM's recall to replace driver-side air
bags in order to correct Takata inflators made with an incorrect
part, "which can result in the inflator rupturing during deployment
and can lead to metal fragments striking occupants and no inflation
of the air bag."
Takata faces a growing number of recalls to fix air bags deemed at
risk of exploding and shooting shrapnel at drivers and passengers.
This week, Honda Motor Co and other Japanese automakers recalled
almost 3 million cars globally for potentially defective air bags,
and seven automakers recalled a smaller number in the United States
to replace air bag inflators possibly damaged by humid conditions.
The U.S. recalls were the result of a probe NHTSA opened earlier
this month into more than 1 million vehicles made by several
automakers, after the safety agency received six reports of air bags
not deploying properly in the humid climates of Florida and Puerto
Owens' accident was not cited in the agency's investigation
documents. NHTSA said the Cruze inflators are a newer and different
design than those used in the cars already being probed by the
agency. NHTSA also said the Cruze recall was not related to the
other U.S. recalls.
In Owens' accident, which occurred in stop-and-go traffic in Forsyth
County, Georgia, her red 2013 Cruze bumped the car in front of her
and the air bag deployed "with such force that it detached from the
steering wheel and struck (her) in the face, causing her left eye to
rupture," according to the lawsuit. "She is now permanently and
completely blind in her left eye."
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Owens, in her lawsuit, said her car's driver-side air bag should not
have deployed and the inflators were "over-powered and exploded."
The accident report filed by police cited Owens for following the
vehicle in front of her too closely, but described her as being "in
shock" after the accident. The police report also noted the air bag
in Owens' car was in the back seat when the officer arrived.
GM, which also has been dealing with fallout from a defective
ignition switch linked to at least 13 deaths, said in the NHTSA
filing that it was recalling certain Cruze cars, most in the United
States, from model years 2013 and 2014 because the air bags could
fail to inflate or the inflators could rupture during deployment.
GM said Takata from June 11-19 analyzed inflators built around the
same time as the ones in Owens' accident and on June 20 Takata told
GM it had found the cause.
GM has said the issue was not directly related to other problems
with Takata air bags that have led to the wide global recall of
vehicles, many made by Honda and Toyota Motor Corp. However, Takata
inflators exploding with too much force have been blamed over the
last several years in numerous consumer complaints filed with NHTSA
and in lawsuits against the supplier.
The case is Owens v. General Motors, U.S. District Court for the
Northern District of Georgia, No. 14-1259.
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