Volkswagen has been added to a growing number of car makers subject to an Australian consumer class action over potentially deadly airbags, as the global Takata recall crisis shows no signs of abating.
The German brand now joins BMW, Honda, Mazda, Nissan, Subaru and Toyota as the focus of a lawsuit by Sydney law firm Quinn Emanuel, which is seeking damages on behalf of a number of Australians.
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Many millions of vehicles are now known to be carrying the faulty Takata airbags worldwide, which have the potential to explode in the event of a collision, and the recall and replacement of defective units is already underway.
According to Quinn Emanuel however, the seven manufacturers knew the replacement Takata-made airbags suffered the same manufacturing fault and associated hazards at the time of replacement, deliberately exposing the vehicle’s owners to continued or even increased danger.
“These manufacturers knew these airbags were dangerous, but kept using them in their vehicles – putting profits before the safety of their customers,” said Quinn Emanuel partner Damian Scattini.
The company has not disclosed how many owners have signed up to be part of the claim action, but as many as one in four (2.5 million) vehicles are fitted with the potentially dangerous units on Australian roads.
One death and one serious injury has resulted locally from the problem, which originates from an assembly defect, allowing moisture to contaminate the pyrotechnic propellant. When the airbag is triggered in the event of a crash, the unstable propellant can rupture the metal casing causing potentially deadly shrapnel.
The faulty airbags cannot spontaneously explode and must be fired by the vehicle’s SRS system during a crash.
Since the problem was first identified in 2013, the various impacted car makers have been scrambling to recall and replace potentially dangerous units, but the sheer numbers involved have caused immense supply problems.
In some cases newer airbag modules with the same potential manufacturing defect have been used in ‘remedial’ work, but as to whether the car manufacturers were aware at the time is a matter for the courts to decide.
Such is the gravity of the implications and number of motorists potentially affected, the federal government instructed the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) to issue a compulsory recall for the Takata airbag – its first to date for a consumer product.
Owners of affected vehicles should have been contacted by the respective manufacturers, but the ACCC website provides a simple search function for drivers concerned their vehicle may need attention but have not received official notice.
As it stands, the best advice if you believe your vehicle may contain an affected airbag is to not drive it until a safe unit has been installed.