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Law firm that won Toyota safety settlement targets Takata air bags

This undated photo provided by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety shows a crash test of a 2002 Honda CR-V, one of the models subject to a recall to repair faulty air bags.
(Associated Press)

The law firm that negotiated a $1.6-billion class action settlement with Toyota in the 2013 sudden acceleration case -- and just filed suit against General Motors over that company’s faulty ignition switch -- is now targeting Takata air bags and Honda.

The Washington firm of Hagens Berman Sobol Shapiro said Friday that it had received numerous complaints from citizens who were alarmed by press reports of massive recalls of vehicles, or who had contacted their dealers and been told not to bring their cars in for repairs.

“They’re afraid to use their own cars,” said managing partner Steve Berman.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration last week issued two rare alerts, telling owners that certain early 2000s models of vehicles made by Honda and other manufacturers were subject to explosions of their passenger side air bags.

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The first warning was for 4.7 million vehicles, with particular emphasis on cars in hot, humid climates. Owners of the affected vehicles, in those hot locales, were told to see their dealers as soon as possible.

The second warning increased the number of affected vehicles to 7.8 milllion, and included stronger language, encouraging owners of the affected vehicles to stop driving their cars until they could be seen by their dealers.

Hagens Berman Sobol Shapiro was successful in its litigation against Toyota, in a years-long case that resulted in a $1.6-billion settlement with the Japanese auto giant. The firm’s current case against GM has just begun, with early hearings in the Southern District of New York.

The air bag class-action lawsuit, Berman said, will certainly be filed against Takata and probably Honda as well -- and will allege a cover-up. Berman said the company has already uncovered evidence of 30 injuries and two deaths caused by improperly deploying air bags.

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“Obviously, this is a defective product,” Berman said.

One suspected incident involved a Honda, presumed fitted with a Takata air bag, that exploded and killed one of the car’s occupants, in Florida. A representative of the Florida Highway Patrol confirmed the department was investigating the death, but said no other details could be provided.

A Takata spokesperson said the company had no knowledge of the Hagens Berman class-action lawsuit. A Honda spokesperson declined to comment.

The suspect air bags were assembled or included parts made in two Takata factories in the U.S. and Mexico. They were installed in vehicles made by Honda, Toyota, Mazda, Nissan, Mitsubishi, Subaru, Chrysler, Ford and BMW -- with Honda vehicles making up the bulk of the list.

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Vehicle owners concerned about their own cars are urged to visit NHTSA’s website and choose the “Search by VIN” option, using their car’s vehicle identification number to determine whether it is at risk.

The Takata air bag recalls have added to a record year for U.S. safety recalls. At more than 50 million vehicles, the year-to-date safety recall level is high above the previous record of 30.8 million vehicles set in 2004.

On Thursday, Sens. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) and Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) issued their own alert, calling upon NHTSA to issue a nationwide recall on all vehicles suspected of being equipped with the defective air bags, regardless of the climate of the state where the cars are registered.

Follow me on Twitter: @misterfleming

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