Federal prosecutors stated last week that they had filed criminal charges against three Takata executives, a major maker of auto parts in Japan, for faking test data to hide a fatal defect in the company’s airbags. This has been the largest automotive recall in US history, and now executives allegedly responsible for the cover up could get time in federal prison.
Prosecutors for the US government stated that Takata agreed to plead guilty to federal charges of wire fraud for providing automakers with false information. This is a rare charge for companies that have been accused of wrongdoing. The company also faces a $1 billion fine.
About Takata Airbag Injuries
Many Americans have been injured by faulty Takata airbags, but did you know that airbag failure injuries can be either seen or hidden? The most common visible injuries include cuts, lacerations and bruising from the explosive force of the defective airbag deploying.
However, there can be a multitude of airbag injuries that are not easily seen by the eye. The impact of a defective airbag can be as hard as a person striking the steering wheel or dashboard. This can result in serious head, neck and spinal injuries. Also, there can be hidden damage to the chest wall, heart, brain, ear drums and blood vessels. Some of these injuries may not become apparent until much later.
If you have been the victim of a defective Takata airbag, it is important for you to seek medical treatment as soon as the alleged injury occurs. You should establish a medical paper trail as soon as you can after the alleged injury. This will increase the chances that you may be able to successfully file a civil lawsuit to receive compensation for your injuries.
The fine and guilty plea were expected, that the criminal charges against the executives is an unusual development in a massive airbag scandal that has angered regulators and brought on several congressional hearings. The scandal also has almost bankrupted Takata.
The airbags, which can explode dangerously during a crash, have caused at least 11 deaths and 180 injuries in the US.
According to Barbara L. McQuade, a United States attorney for the Eastern District of Michigan, the executives led a company wide effort to fake and manipulate data because they wanted to continue to make a profit on their airbags. They knew that they were creating a danger for end users, who are just regular citizens.
She added that the executives created a reprehensible risk, further noting that auto suppliers in the US must know that they must put public safety before profits.
The federal indictments are some of the final moves of the Obama administration to crack down on white collar criminals. The Obama DOJ has gotten several guilty pleas from companies and federal charges against managers and executives in white collar crime cases.
Federal prosecutors also charged six executives at Volkswagen for their roles in the company’s efforts to cheat on emissions tests.
Some legal experts see these efforts as a marked departure from the years after the 2008 financial crisis. No top bank executive face prison time. This fueled a major outcry from the public that Wall Street executives had wrecked the financial system and got away with it.
The executives at Takata stand accused of federal charges for their allegedly egregious conduct.
The federal indictment states that the executives led efforts to falsify airbag safety data, and this went on for up to 15 years. They allegedly knew in 2000 that that the airbags’ metal inflators could blow up and spray shrapnel into the passenger cabin.
But as the years went by, the executives often talked in emails about faking test results, throwing away incriminating information, and generally falsifying information and misleading their automaker manufacturer customers.
According to the New York Times, Takata has been suspected for years of tampering with safety test results, and not alerting federal regulators about the fatal flaw. Honda also has been accused of deceiving federal regulators about the defect. The New York Times also has reported in the last few years about ex-Takata engineers stating that concerns about costs and profits led to risky decisions in the airbags’ design.
The airbag inflators use ammonium nitrate to inflate, which is unstable and highly combustible. Takata, however has manufactured and distributed these inflators and said they are safe and stable, according to the federal indictment.
The three executives are Shinichi Tanaka, Hideo Nakajima and Tsuneo Chikaraishi, and they were indicted by a federal grand jury last month. All three had worked in the US and Japan for the company until 2015.
One particularly damaging email from June 2005 said that the three executives had no alternative but to manipulate the airbag testing data and that all three of them has to cross the bridge as one.
The company responded to the federal indictment by saying that it would continue to work with DOJ regarding the investigation. In recent months, the company has been fully cooperating with the federal probe. It has identified employees of the company who may have misled automakers and federal regulatory authorities. Federal prosecutors have taken that cooperation into account as they have contemplated the criminal penalties to pursue.
Prosecutors say that the three men who have been indicted currently live in Japan. It is not clear if or when they will face a court trial in the US. Japan has an extradition treaty in place with the US. But in regular practice, the Japanese government has discretion over when to comply with an extradition request.