Hyundai Motor Co. is facing a possible recall over hundreds of thousands of possibly faulty airbag control units. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has opened a probe into several incidents where airbags in certain Hyundai models had failed to deploy in head-on collisions.
Airbag recalls have been an ongoing issue for numerous automotive manufacturers. The Takata airbag recall is still ongoing, and dozens of instances of liability have arisen related to faulty airbag units. Multiple manufacturers have been involved.
Hyundai’s issue is not related to the airbag units themselves, but the electrical control module that handles deployment of the airbag unit. According to reports, the modules were manufactured by a German company and used in the 2012-2013 Kia Fortes and the 2011 Hyundai Sonatas. Hyundai is currently evaluating 425,000 of those cars to determine whether there is an issue that needs to be resolved.
Hyundai is no stranger to NHTSA penalties or inquiries. In 2014, it settled an NHTSA inquiry with a $17 million payment related to a delay in recalling vehicles with a brake defect. In 2017, the NHTSA opened an investigation into 1.6 million Hyundai vehicles over faulty engines.
This latest airbag inquiry follows reports of at least four deaths in accidents where airbags failed to deploy. Hyundai disputes that the modules were the cause of the death, claiming that the deaths were in accidents that involved head-on collisions at a high rate of speed.
Hyundai has good reason to dispute that the airbags were the cause of the deaths: such an admission would prove one of the primary elements of a negligence claim – that the faulty airbag module was the cause of the death.
Negligence claims have other elements – including proving that Hyundai had a duty to its buyers to provide functioning airbags, and that Hyundai breached that duty by selling vehicles to its buyers that had faulty control units.
Airbags in vehicles have become an automotive industry standard. However, simply installing an airbag into a vehicle is not enough. The airbag must deploy properly and effectively upon impact. As many automakers rely on airbags to support their claims of safety, manufacturing vehicles with airbags that fail to deploy severely undermine their credibility and creates a danger to the public.