A 21-year-old Chapin woman has filed the first South Carolina claim against a Japanese airbag maker for injuries and harm she sustained from flying shrapnel when the airbag in her car exploded after a crash.
In a products liability claim filed Friday in U.S. District Court in Columbia, Angelina Sujata said she suffered serious, permanent and life-scarring injuries in the March 2012 crash in Chapin in which her 2001 Honda Civic rear-ended a car in front of her that stopped abruptly.
Sujata says the car crash sent multiple volleys of sharp, metal shrapnel shooting into her chest on impact, as the Takata airbag inflator in her car exploded with excessive force. Sujata’s Honda Civic had been recalled by federal safety inspectors for its faulty airbag system, but Sujata said she never learned about the recall from Honda until more than a year after her accident.
Honda this week was fined a record $70 million for not reporting to regulators some 1,729 complaints that its vehicles caused deaths and injuries, including those related to airbags made by Takata Corp., and for not reporting warranty claims. The Japanese automaker acknowledged in November that it failed to report the death and injury complaints to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration over an 11-year period beginning in 2003. The company admitted it learned of the omissions in 2011 but waited three years to take action.
Honda has recalled more than 5 million vehicles in the U.S. since 2008 to fix a potentially fatal defect in Takata-made air bags.
Sujata’s court filing, meanwhile, cites published reports that car manufacturer Honda, knew about the faulty and dangerous airbags long before Sujata’s March 2, 2012, Chapin rear-ender.
“I wanted to know why I had been injured the way I had been, and I didn’t believe that that was standard for an airbag to deploy in a wreck like that,” said Sujata, who conducted her own research after the accident and discovered the recall issue.
Sujata said she was hospitalized after the wreck and went through two surgeries as a result of the accident, the latest to remove shrapnel that was subsequently discovered in her body and the source of chest pain. A student at a technical college now, Sujata said she lives with trauma from the car crash and suffers permanent scarring in several areas of her chest and upper torso.
“Honestly, I just hope to get the word out,” Sujata said. “I don’t want others to have the same situation I went through, and the distress and everything that came with the whole incident. I just want to make it aware to the public, because so many people don’t know and they’re driving around with these defective air bags.”
The court claim seeks a trial by jury and asks for actual and compensatory damages for pain, suffering and permanent impairment against Honda, Takata and their holdings in the amount the jury decides.
It also seeks to recover attorney’s fees and whatever other relief the court determines proper.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has issued a recall for the Takata air bag system, which the suit claims affects more than 8 million vehicles.
Sujata’s suit maintains the injuries she sustained would have been avoided had the air bag system been normal, safe and unfolded as expected. However, the defects in the vehicle caused the serious injuries resulting from the crash, the suit says, alleging negligence, reckless conduct and breach of warranty against Honda and Takata.
“This is the first shrapnel injury case filed in South Carolina that I’m aware of,” said Kevin Dean, a catastrophic personal injury attorney who represents Sujata. Dean, of the firm Motley Rice, said he is aware of five death cases across the country dealing with shrapnel from airbags, four of which have been settled.
There are six to eight other shrapnel injury cases in the U.S. Dean said he is aware of, and those cases may be combined with the South Carolina injury case into one bigger case at some point.
“We’re not asking for a particular amount, but basically my client is upset about what happened and she wants to investigate every angle she can to ascertain why she was not told about the recall and the problems with her car before the accident,” Dean said.
“Recalls are only as good as the audience they are able to reach.”
The Associated Press contributed.