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Attorney General Claude Walker Wants Honda To Provide Replacement Vehicles

CHRISTIANSTED — Attorney General Claude Walker has sent a scorching letter to a Chicago attorney representing Honda, saying that the carmaker’s “shortcomings” in repairing faulty airbags are “treacherous and unacceptable.”
The letter, sent to Chicago attorney Eric Mattson, shared Walker’s concerns over the fact that a St. Thomas Honda dealership “indicated that it was not aware of Honda’s promise to offer replacement vehicles in the U.S. Virgin Islands when repairs were not immediately available.”

“A little more than two weeks ago, I had requested that Honda promptly conduct a “repair a-thon” in the U.S. Virgin Islands to replace recalled Takata airbags and I offered to arrange the locations and help to promote the effort, if Honda would provide the technicians and parts. I have not seen any sign of progress in response to my offer, or any similar. effort, and Honda’s replacement of dangerous recalled Takata airbags in the U.S. Virgin Islands lags far behind its rates elsewhere in the United States,” Walker wrote in the letter to Mattson. “This is an urgent safety issue, but so far, Honda has demonstrated a clear lack of attention to the U.S. Virgin Islands. Honda has failed to repair or replace unsafe vehicles in the Virgin Islands and such neglect is treacherous and unacceptable. Honda seems all too willing to sell cars in the U.S. Virgin Islands, but not to protect its customers who drive those cars.”

 In June, the Virgin Islands filed a lawsuit against Takata and Honda alleging the companies manufactured, used and marketed defective airbags the companies knew were prone to explode, causing injuries and deaths. The lawsuit says Honda and Takata misled Virgin Island consumers about the safety of the vehicles and the airbags.

Hawaii got the ball rolling when it announced a government lawsuit against Takata and automaker Honda, the company that previously used Takata airbags more than any other automaker. Honda was pulled through the mud by Takata’s deception and all confirmed deaths except one have occurred in Honda vehicles.

Based on court documents, the attorney general is worried about recouping money from Takata because of the fear the company will go bankrupt due to the defective airbags. According to the complaint, Takata is facing recall costs of as much as $24 billion, not counting all the fraud and injury lawsuits filed against the company.

Walker filed the lawsuit on behalf of Virgin Island residents and the thousands of VW owners located in an area of the world known for high humidity.

The humidity is a big contributing factor as to why the airbags explode, sending shards of metal into occupants. The humidity creates moisture that can seep into the metal airbag inflators and affect the explosive ammonium nitrate inside the inflators. What should be a small explosive force to deploy the airbags becomes a massive explosion equal to a grenade exploding in a car.

Specifically, the lawsuit claims Takata made the sole decision to use something called “phase stabilized ammonium nitrate” as the airbag propellant. In addition to knowing the chemical is cheap to use, Takata also knew the ammonium nitrate was a completely unstable chemical easily destabilized by moisture.

Walker says because of the history of ammonium nitrate, Takata should have carefully tested the chemical but skipped the tests, sending out airbags that never passed product evaluation processes inside the company.

The Virgin Islands lawsuit alleges Takata continued its scheme for nearly 16 years, engaging in a pattern of criminal behavior and concealing the truth from the world. The deception has so far cost at least 10 people their lives in the U.S. and about 140 people have suffered injuries because Takata wanted to make money.

The attorney general says that even when Takata knew the inflators were dangerous, the company still refused to notify automakers that used the airbags. Walker says Takata had plenty of time to notify automakers and save lives, but chose to falsify data to keep the charade going.

Takata is charged with violations of the Criminally Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, or CICO, based on allegations that Takata concealed airbag defects through a pattern of criminal activity.

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The Author

John McCarthy

John McCarthy

John McCarthy is primarily known for his investigative reporting on the U.S. Virgin Islands. A series of reports beginning in the 1990's revealed that there was everything from coliform bacteria to Cryptosporidium in locally-bottled St. Croix drinking water, according to a then-unpublished University of the Virgin Islands sampling. Another report, following Hurricane Hugo in 1989, cited a Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) confidential overview that said that over 40 percent of the U.S. Virgin Islands public lives below the poverty line. The Virgin Islands Free Press is the only Caribbean news source to regularly incorporate the findings of U.S. Freedom of Information Act requests. John's articles have appeared in the BVI Beacon, St. Croix Avis, San Juan Star and Virgin Islands Daily News. He is the former news director of WSVI-TV Channel 8 on St. Croix.

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