MIAMI (Legal Newsline) - The U.S. Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation has decided to consolidate all Takata airbag recall lawsuits that are pending nationwide.
The six-member panel issued its four-page transfer order Thursday.
“These actions -- all of which are putative nationwide class actions -- share factual questions arising from allegations that certain Takata-manufactured airbags are defective in that they can violently explode and eject metal debris resulting in injury or even death,” the panel wrote.
“Plaintiffs allege that Takata and the various motor vehicle manufacturer defendants became aware of the defect years ago, but concealed their knowledge from safety regulators and the public.
“Centralization will eliminate duplicative discovery, prevent inconsistent pretrial rulings on class certification and other issues, and conserve the resources of the parties, their counsel, and the judiciary.”
Complaints filed through the federal court system will be transferred to Judge Federico Moreno in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida.
The panel described Moreno as an “able and experienced jurist.”
“He has been on the federal bench since 1990, and was a state court judge prior to that. He also is a veteran transferee judge, having previously overseen MDL No. 1334, In re: Managed Care Litigation, a complex docket involving numerous health care defendants,” they wrote.
“As with that MDL, we are confident that Judge Moreno will steer the proceedings here on a prudent course.”
The order affects at least five class action lawsuits filed in the Central District of California, Southern District of Florida and Eastern District of Michigan.
But dozens more could be transferred into the MDL.
“The Panel has been informed of 67 additional related federal actions. Those actions and any other related federal actions are potential tag-along actions,” the order states, adding that constituent and tag-along actions are pending across the country in more than two dozen districts.
According to a search of PACER, an online service that provides access to federal court documents, nearly 100 lawsuits have been filed against Takata since Nov. 1 alone.
The airbags allegedly rupture and spray bits of metal into drivers and front-seat passengers.
Japanese manufacturer Takata Corp. is believed to have sold bad airbags to at least 11 different automakers dating to at least as far back as 2001. However, the company did not issue a recall until 2008.
The first reported airbag shrapnel deployment occurred in 2004.
Hiroshi Shimizu, senior vice president for global quality assurance at Takata, testified before the U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation in November that the company believes the root causes of the “inflator ruptures” likely involve a combination of three factors: (1) the age of the unit; (2) persistent exposure over time to conditions of high absolute humidity; and (3) potential production issues.
“Even one failure is unacceptable and we are truly and deeply saddened that five fatalities have been attributed to auto accidents where Takata airbags malfunctioned,” Chairman and CEO Shigehisa Takada wrote in an open letter to the U.S. media in December.
“We understand the public’s concerns and we take them seriously.”
Both plaintiffs and defendants supported consolidation of the airbag lawsuits; however, Takata was pushing for the Western District of Pennsylvania, while defendant Chrysler wanted the Southern District of New York.
From Legal Newsline: Reach Jessica Karmasek by email at email@example.com.