Honda confirmed the first California death caused by exploding Takata airbags.
The problem sparked a recall earlier this year of 34 million vehicles, making it the largest recall of automobiles in history and among the biggest of any U.S. consumer product. The recall includes vehicles manufactured by BMW, Chrysler, Daimler Trucks, Ford, General Motors, Honda, Mazda, Mitsubishi, Nissan, Subaru and Toyota.
Honda said the Takata Corp. driver’s air bag inflator ruptured in the crash of a rented 2001 Honda Civic driven by Jewel Brangman, 26, on Sept. 7.
Brangman suffered a laceration to the left side of her neck and a severe brain injury, according to a Los Angeles Superior Court lawsuit filed by her family earlier this year. The lawsuit alleges that both Takata and Honda had known for years that there were problems with the air bag inflators and should have moved more quickly to fix the vehicles.
Honda has now confirmed six deaths and more than 60 injuries in the U.S. related to Takata driver’s air bag inflator explosions. Most of the incidents are occurring in regions with high heat and humidity, including Florida, Texas and Louisiana. This latest incident demonstrates that the inflators can explode in milder climates.
Additionally, there is one California incident under review where Honda is attempting to determine if the driver’s death was caused by a faulty Takata inflator.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration said there have been a total of seven deaths linked to the air bags in the U.S. and one more overseas.
Honda said the vehicle driven by Brangman had a checkered history.
The Civic was crashed and issued a salvage title in California in October 2011. It was sold through an automobile auction to the current Sunset Car Rentals, a small rental car agency in November 2011. Brangman rented the vehicle on Aug. 17. Sunset Car Rental has a disconnected phone number and could not be reached for comment.
"The fact that this was a rental vehicle that had not been remedied is more evidence for why we are seeking authority to prohibit sale or rental of any vehicle with an open safety recall," said NHTSA Administrator Mark Rosekind.
Honda said the Civic was recalled to replace the inflator in July 2009 but various registered owners failed to bring the car to a dealership for repairs. The automaker said four mailed recall notifications were sent to registered owners of the Civic starting in August 2009.
Investigators believe that the air bag problem results from faulty fabrication of chemical-propellant wafers stacked inside the inflators at Takata factories in Moses Lake, Wash., and Monclova, Mexico. The problem can cause a metal canister in the air bag system to explode, spraying shrapnel into the passenger cabin.
The auto industry is seeing increasingly large recalls as manufacturers share parts across their own models and use components from the same suppliers. NHTSA said there were 803 vehicle recalls last year involving 63.9 million vehicles. Last year's tally included two of the 10 largest vehicle recalls in history and involved double the record number of cars set in 2004.