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Airbag company executives indicted for defective product cover-up

Under Florida law, when a person is injured by an unreasonably dangerous product, the manufacturer may be held liable in a civil lawsuit. When a defective product causes a consumer death, the victim's family can pursue a wrongful death action. In both scenarios the manufacturer is held responsible for the injury or death under a body of state and federal law known as products liability.

Sometimes, when a manufacturer's alleged conduct is particularly unethical or egregious, the company, its officers or employees can face criminal prosecution. This occurred recently when three executives of Takata Corporation, a major Japanese auto parts manufacturer, were indicted on federal charges for their roles in the Takata airbag safety scandal. According to prosecutors, the three were involved in manipulating test data to cover up the safety defect. In addition, prosecutors announced that the company pleaded guilty to wire fraud charges and was fined $1 billion for the test data falsification.

Takata airbags can explode when they deploy, propelling metal fragments into the vehicle's interior. The faulty airbags have been implicated in more than 180 injuries and at least 11 deaths in the U.S. The airbags are the subject of the most far-reaching product recall in the history of the U.S. auto industry. So far 70 million airbags, installed in 42 million vehicles, have been recalled. Takata is also being sued in a nationwide class action lawsuit brought by affected vehicle owners.

When a company puts consumers at risk in order to protect their profits, they must be held accountable. Product liability lawsuits force irresponsible companies to pay for the mayhem they cause to the public, and send a powerful message that this kind of corporate conduct will have consequences for their bottom lines.

Source: New York Times, "3 Takata Executives Face Criminal Charges Over Exploding Airbags," Hiroko Tabuchi & Neal E. Boudette, Jan. 13, 2017

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