The Takata airbag scandal has resulted in the largest recall that the automotive industry has ever seen. The recalls affect 19 different automakers and millions of vehicles, and the faulty airbags have led to nearly two dozen deaths and hundreds of injuries worldwide.
The problem with the airbags is that the propellant used to inflate them, ammonium nitrate, can degrade over time. This can cause the bags to explode with too much force, sending deadly shrapnel flying through the vehicle. The degradation occurs faster in climates that are warmer with high humidity.
The shocking thing about the whole recall is that had a whistleblower not stepped forward, the defect might not have been discovered as early as it had been otherwise.
Mark Lillie, a former engineering manager at Takata Corp, is the whistleblower saying that the airbag warning was his ethical duty.
Beginning in the late 1990s, Lillie tried to dissuade Takata from using the ammonium nitrate propellants, but to no avail. He eventually retired in the late 1990s amid concerns regarding the airbags. After leaving, Lillie spent time agonizing over whether or not to report the issues surrounding the airbags, even as injuries and deaths began to occur.
Finally, in 2014, with support from his wife, Lillie came forward to the U.S. Senate Transportation Committee. Lillie also informed the U.S. Justice Department, the FBI, and the media. He was able to provide the U.S. government with emails, designs, as well as witness lists, which helped to prove that the company was aware of the danger of the designs as early as 1999.
However, in 2008, both Takata and Honda Motor Company were denying fault in another airbag-related death, eventually settling out of court for an undisclosed sum with the plaintiffs in the case. The denials came even as recalls began to grow in number, beginning with approximately 4,000 recalls in 2008. By 2012, that number had grown to 896k vehicles. Today, Honda has recalled more than a million vehicles across both its Honda and Acura brands.
Mark Lillie is the only named whistleblower, however, there are two others, both of whom wished to remain anonymous. Under the Motor Vehicle Safety Whistleblower Act the three informants are requesting monetary rewards. Congress directed the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to write rules regarding the program by June 2017, but as of March, they had not yet been completed.
The law allows for whistleblowers to receive between 10% and 30% of any sanctions over $1 million that the U.S. government recovers as a result of whistleblower information. Where it concerns Lillie and the other whistleblowers, that could mean as much as $1.7 million shared between the trio.
“If you have received a recall notice, it is imperative to visit the dealer to have the airbag replaced. If you have been injured by a faulty airbag, it is important to consult with an attorney familiar with the Takata airbag recall,” says an attorney from Newsome Melton, a Florida law firm specializing in the Takata airbag recall.