U.S. senators Richard Blumenthal, Ed Markey, and Claire McCaskill have called on the Justice Department to investigate whether air bag maker Takata lied in reports filed with the government about defective air bags responsible for massive car recalls. The defective air bags have been linked to two deaths and numerous injuries.
The New York Times reports that Takata secretly conducted tests on defective air bags four years before the first recall of vehicles that used them. The United States attorney’s office in Manhattan is looking into Takata’s handling of the air bag defect. There were numerous exchanges between Takata and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) about problems with its air bags, and this will be the starting point for the Justice Department’s investigation.
Honda recalled a small number of vehicles in 2008 because of problems with the Takata airbags. NHTSA opened an inquiry on the timing of the recall but closed the inquiry six months later because of “insufficient information” about whether the recall was made in a timely manner. The Times reported that Takata first looked into a possible defect in the air bags four years earlier but company executives instructed employees to delete information about tests on the air bags, raising questions about whether information reported on the 2008 recall was accurate. The defective airbags can explode, shooting sharp metal pieces through the passenger compartment, injuring occupants. A Florida woman died last month when the air bag in her Honda Accord sent shrapnel into her neck. Investigators first thought she had been stabbed.
In 2010, Takata gave NHTSA what it called a “comprehensive response” about issues related to airbag inflaters. In a 2014 letter about an investigation into the airbags, Takata company “currently available information does not indicate that any Takata inflaters — other than those in vehicles that were previously recalled — contain a safety defect.” Prosecutors will likely focus such broad statements in determining whether company statements to federal regulators were false or misleading under the federal false-statement law. The law prohibits “any materially false, fictitious, or fraudulent statement or representation” related to a matter within the jurisdiction of a federal agency, according to the Times.