Utah Woman Injured by Airbag Shrapnel Files Suit

November 17, 2015

A Utah woman sued an airbag maker, her car manufacturer and the dealership that inspected the safety device after it sent shrapnel into her neck during a crash, leaving her unable to speak normally.

Randi Johnston’s air bag deployed in September when she was driving to work in a 2003 Honda Civic and rear-ended another car on Interstate 15. Metal lodged in the 25-year-old’s throat, slicing her trachea and damaging her vocal cords. She spent two weeks in the hospital, her family said.

Johnston’s attorneys filed a personal injury lawsuit Tuesday against Japanese air bag manufacturer Takata Corp., Honda Motors and the Stockton 12 Automotive Group.

U.S. auto safety regulators fined Takata $70 million this month for concealing evidence for years that its airbags are prone to explode – a defect linked to eight deaths and more than 100 injuries worldwide.

Takata admitted that it knew its airbag inflators were defective but that it fended off recalls by failing to tell the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. The company has expressed regret and said settling with U.S. regulators would help it focus on rebuilding trust.

So far, recalls have affected more than 19 million U.S. vehicles sold by 12 automakers.

Johnston’s lawyer, Kevin Dean of South Carolina, represents 28 people across the country in similar cases. Her lawsuit alleges negligence, reckless conduct and breach of warranty and seeks more than $300,000 in damages.

A spokesman for Larry H. Miller dealerships says Johnston’s vehicle was inspected in March and a recall for air bags was not issued until June. Johnston said she was not notified of the recall, but the dealership said she may not have registered the vehicle.

Honda said in a statement that it has been in discussions with the woman’s lawyer and that the car was registered and used in Florida for several years before the accident. The company also said it has not been served with the lawsuit or had the chance to inspect the vehicle. Honda says it has repaired about 42 percent of vehicles nationwide that could be affected.

Takata’s airbags are inflated by an explosion of ammonium nitrate, and investigators have found so far that prolonged exposure to airborne moisture can cause the propellant to burn too fast. That can blow apart a metal canister and shoot out fragments.

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