Hawaii took the Japanese auto parts maker Takata to court on Friday, accusing it of covering up a deadly airbag defect and demanding a $10,000 penalty for every affected car owner in Hawaii.
The lawsuit, filed in Hawaii's First Circuit Court, makes Hawaii the first state to sue Takata over its faulty airbags. The lawsuit also names Honda Motor, the automaker most affected by the continuing mass recalls of Takata airbags, as a defendant, and demands that each company do more to raise awareness of the dangers the defect poses to car owners.
"We're not going to sit back and wait for more accidents to happen," Steve Levins, the state's director of consumer protection, said in an interview. "We're also seeking that consumers be compensated for any losses associated with this incident, whether that's alternative transportation costs, or a diminished value of their vehicle."
At least 10 deaths in the United States, and three overseas, have been linked to the defect, which can cause pressure to build up in and rupture the steel interiors of the airbags, sending metal debris flying into the car's cabin. More than 100 people have been injured.
Hawaii's lawsuit says that its residents are at particular risk because of the state's high temperatures and humidity levels. Auto safety regulators have determined that long-term exposure to moisture and temperature fluctuations over time can degrade the explosives, or propellant, used to deploy the airbag, making it more unstable and prone to cause the airbag's interior to rupture.
Based on those findings, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration this month ordered Takata to work with automakers to recall an additional 35 million to 40 million airbags nationwide, bringing the number recalled in the United States to 64 million. Automakers had initially limited some of their recalls to humid regions, including Hawaii, Florida, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands.
Now, the recalls span the globe. A senior executive at Honda, Takata's biggest customer, said on Friday before the suit was filed that it planned to recall 21 million more vehicles worldwide to fix Takata's defective airbags, bringing its global tally to to 51 million vehicles.