ARC Airbag Recall Denial: A Potential Crisis Looming?

by | Dec 27, 2023 | Personal Injury

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“ARC refuses to recall 67 million airbag inflators after regulator’s request”- BBC

“US wants a recall of 67 million airbag inflators, but the manufacturer disagrees”- CNN

“Investigation Behind Huge Air-Bag Recall Demand Took 8 Years”- The Wall Street Journal

A heated debate is overtaking the American media for the past one week, as ARC Automotive, the famous airbag inflator manufacturer has flatly denied The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s (NHTSA) request for ARC airbag recall.

This shocking move, putting potentially millions of consumers at risk, has instigated a wave of debates.

In the wake of safety concerns surrounding the ARC airbag systems, automobile owners around the world are looking for answers. This growing issue has put the spotlight on automobile safety, more specifically airbag manufacturing standards.

Let’s dive deep into the backdrop of the current issue.

Shocking Revelation by NHTSA Investigation on ARC Inflators

The NHTSA informed ARC automotive on April 27, 2023 that its 8-year-old investigation on the ARC inflators has unearthed safety defects on the ARC inflators for the driver and the front passenger.

NHTSA started the investigation after seven incidents were reported of injuries including two deaths in the U.S. and Canada.

In this letter posted in the NHTSA site on Friday, Stephen Ridella, director of NHTSA’s Office of Defects Investigation, wrote to Mr. Steve Gold, ARC’s Vice President of Product Integrity, “Air bag inflators that project metal fragments into vehicle occupants … create an unreasonable risk of death and injury.”

The NHTSA’s letter requested ARC to initiate a recall of 67 million defective ARC airbags inflators to solve the issue. The airbag recall is expected to cover a lion’s share of the 284 million vehicles on the U.S. roads at present.

However, ARC bluntly denied the request of airbag recall saying that there was no defect in the inflators and the reports of injury and deaths are related to the isolated manufacturing issues.

ARC stated that their “extensive field testing has found no inherent defect,” and in none of the seven airbag ruptures reported, welding debris has been confirmed as the culprit. Mr. Gold also added that the NHTSA’s demand for recall goes beyond its legal authority.

ARC’s denial of the safety defects not only clouds the airbag recall process but also fills a fear in the minds of the public. This defensive step taken by ARC, despite the potential evidence, can mar its reputation and reflect in its market value soon.

The sad truth is that more than 30 million drivers are still unaware of the ticking time bombs in their vehicles.

Millions of Vehicles Include Airbag Recalls

ARC airbag inflators are used in the airbags fixed in more than 13 vehicle manufacturers. However, only General Motors, BMW and Volkswagen have initiated auto recalls so far to replace airbags. Let’s see the exploding airbags recall list 2023 here.

General Motors- May 10, 2023

General Motors issued a recall of one million sport utility vehicles related to the ARC airbag inflator defect. ARC airbag recall list 2023:

  • 2014-2017 Buick Enclave- 244,304 vehicles
  • 2014-2017 Chevrolet Traverse- 457,316 vehicles
  • 2014-2017 GMC Acadia- 293,143 vehicles

The airbag explosion incidents reported GM on March 24, 2023, September 2, 2021 and February 18, 2022- all in Chevrolet Traverse vehicles triggered GM to probe into the matter seriously.

Though the reason for these ruptures are still unknown, GM decided to initiate an airbag recall “out of an abundance of caution.”

As per the NHTSA report, GM wanted to “expand Recalls 21V782 and 22V246 to all front-driver airbag modules containing an ARC “MC” variant inflator that were installed as original equipment in 2014-2017 model year Chevrolet Traverse, Buick Enclave and GMC.”

Dealers are asked to replace the front-driver airbag modules in all these vehicles. All the owners of these vehicles will be notified by June 26, 2023.

Volkswagen- July 27, 2022

Volkswagen issued a recall of about 1,200 vehicles in response to front passenger air bag inflator rupture-related injuries. The incident where the airbag explosion in a 2016 Audi A3 e-tron injured the driver triggered this recall.

The vehicles included in the recall are as listed below: (model years 2002 and 2017)

  • 2016 Audi TT Roadster
  • TT Coupe
  • S3 Sedan
  • R8 Coupe
  • A3 Sedan
  • A3 Etron
  • A3 Cabriolet
  • 2016 Golf Sportwagen
  • Golf R
  • Golf GTI
  • Golf A7
  • E Golf

General Motors- Prior Recalls

Date of Recall Vehicle models Reason

April 14, 2022

 

2015 Buick Enclave

Chevrolet Traverse

GMC Acadia vehicles

Driver side airbag explosion defect

October 7, 2021

 

2008-2017 Buick Enclave

2013-2017 Chevrolet Traverse

Driver side airbag explosion
January 16, 2019 2010-2011 Chevrolet Malibu Frontal driver side airbag explosion

 BMW- March 17, 2017

BMW recalled its vehicles with the manufacturing defects in the passenger frontal air bag modules, which might lead to rupture. The vehicle models with faulty airbag inflators were:

  • 2017 X5 sDrive35i
  • X5 xDrive35i
  • X5 xDrive50i
  • X5 xDrive35d
  • X5 xDrive40e

In the backdrop of airbag recall denial from ARC, other automakers like Ford, Kia, Toyota, etc., are still gathering data of the number of their vehicles with ARC airbag inflators.

What’s behind the screen of these recalls? Let’s have a glance at the ARC Automotive history and what made them in trouble.

History of ARC Automotive

ARC Automotive, based in Knoxville, Tennessee, was founded in 1949. The ARC- Atlantic Research Corporation (ARC) was established to manufacture propellants for the Department of Defense. In 2002, ARC proffered inflator manufacturing technology to the automotive industry.

ARC is a division of Sequa Corporation and was acquired by The Jordan Company L.P., an equity firm.

ARC has four manufacturing units in the U.S. – Detroit, Hartsville, Knoxville, Morgantown. They employ the technology of hybrid inflators, which makes use of eco-friendly gas and reduces the use of pyrotechnic material for the inflation of the airbag.

They claim that this technology has numerous advantages like-

  • Increased ability to adjust or tune performance
  • Lower exhaust gas temperature
  • Lesser amount of gaseous effluents and airborne particles
  • Lower variance in performance across the temperature range
  • Higher uptime and bag filling capacity

ARC uses a friction welding process to join the metallic components. During this process, sometimes excess weld flash is deposited on the internal parts of the inflator.

This weld flash residues shatter during the high powered deployment of the airbag and send metal shrapnel into the vehicle’s interior injuring the people inside.

In other cases, these remains may block the holes, preventing the gas from moving out of the metal canister, which makes the module explode in high pressure and spew the shrapnel into the faces of the occupants.

Though not in the same ratio as Takata airbags, ARC inflator too caused a few fatalities in the U.S.

ARC also uses ammonium nitrate as the propellant like in the Takata airbags. However, the amount of the substance used in ARC inflators is very less.

Due to this, experts are baffled of the real cause of ARC airbag explosions.

List of ARC Inflator-Related Injuries and Deaths

According to the NHTSA report, there were nine incidents related to injuries and death reported- seven in the U.S and two outside U.S.
In the two deaths reported, one was in Michigan and the other was in Canada.

ARC-AIrbag-Recall-injuries-and-deaths-from-airbag-rupture

Marlene M. Beaudoin:

This 40-year-old mother of ten children was the victim of August 2021 Michigan airbag explosion. In a minor accident in Pennsylvania, her airbag exploded and sent metal shards into her neck, head and chest and the steering wheel column of her car pierced her chest. She died later in the hospital.

The woman’s family filed an Airbag explosion lawsuit in Houghton County Circuit Court against Arc Automotive Inc., General Motors and Toyoda Gosei North America Corp. They sought a jury trial and more than $25,000 in damages.

Canadian Woman:

This woman was fatally injured due to the airbag explosion in her Hyundai Elantra. It was a low-speed collision, and she would have survived in this in an otherwise survivable accident, said the Canadian officials.

Aftermath of an Airbag Explosion

When the defects in the airbag inflator modules make the airbags to explode with extreme pressure, it sends metal shards at high speed into the interior injuring the occupants fatally.

Aftermath of the airbag explosion are listed below:

  • Excessive bleeding from deep injuries that can lead to death
  • Detrimental injuries even from minor collisions
  • Lacerations on the upper body including face, neck, chest, etc.
  • Permanent scars and disfigurement
  • Partial or permanent vision loss
  • Sharp and deep wounds like from knife attacks or gunshots
  • Traumatic brain injuries
  • Death on the spot

These detrimental ARC airbag injuries triggered NHTSA investigation and ARC airbag litigation.

NHTSA’s Early Probe into the ARC Airbag Issue

After the death of the Canadian woman in an ARC airbag explosion, the NHTSA asked ARC automotive to investigate the crash and report the test results to the agency in October 04, 2016. However, ARC did not immediately respond to the email or telephone messages, which made the agency threaten ARC with a large fine for lack of cooperation.

This death along with the lot of injury reports from collisions made the NHTSA to expand its investigation to 8 million airbag inflators made by ARC. Initially the investigation started in July 2015 after the report of two injuries.

ARC maintained that they have done several testing programs with the ARC airbag inflators collected from the scrapped cars, which did not rupture in any of the tests.

In 2018, ARC reported to have completed installation of devices to identify the weld slag during the manufacturing process and since then there was no issues of weld flash remain defects in the inflators.

This shows that ARC knows of the defects during the manufacturing process, which led to serious injuries and death of drivers.

Despite this knowledge, ARC continued to manufacture millions of inflators, which are used in airbags installed in vehicles manufactured by GMC, Hyundai, Kia, Fiat Chrysler and many more.

Since the Takata airbag defects have caused more than thirty deaths across the world, the NHTSA ordered for a massive Takata airbag recall in the recent past.

And the recent conclusion of 8-year investigation on ARC airbag defects prompted the agency ask ARC to initiate airbag recalls.

However, ARC’s denial puts many lives at risk.

ARC Airbag Lawsuits

A class action lawsuit filed on May 24, 2022 in the Northern District of California includes ARC Automotive Inc., General Motors, Volkswagen, and Ford as the defendants.

The plaintiffs in the airbag injury claims are

  • John Britton of California
  • Eva Jacinto, of California
  • Celeste Felice of Florida
  • Francine Lewis of New York
  • Matthew Kakol of New York

This class of plaintiffs wanted to obtain “appropriate remedies, including injunctive relief, repair, or replacement of the defective vehicles or vehicle components, restitution, damages, and other available relief designed to redress Defendants’ wrongful conduct.

The lawsuit presented a part of ARC’s patent application of 1995, where ARC noted that ammonium nitrate “undergoes certain phase changes during temperature variations causing cracks and voids if any associated binder is not sufficiently strong and flexible to hold the composition together.”

In the 2019 patent application also, it was noted about ammonium based propellants were becoming unacceptable for usage.

The ARC airbag inflator lawsuit contends that the volatile nature of ammonium nitrate makes it highly explosive when encountering fluctuating temperature and moisture.

They quote that the findings of researchers of Pennsylvania State University’s High Pressure Combustion Laboratory in 2012 that the propellant is vulnerable to dynamic burning and it should be accounted when using ammonium nitrate in systems.

Several class actions were also filed over the airbag defects against ARC and other automakers.

All existing ARC airbag class action lawsuits were consolidated into an MDL no: 3051 under the Northern District of Georgia in December 2022. It is presided over by Honorable Judge Eleanor L. Ross for pretrial proceedings.

Let’s have glance on the class action lawsuits, which are consolidated into the MDL.

Plaintiffs Initial courts Prior Judge
Elizabeth Underwood and Bobbie White Northern District of Alabama Gray M Borden.
Preshawn Long Northern District of Alabama Nicholas A Danella
John Britton, et al (class action) Northern District of California James Donato
Lisa and Jimmy Mann, et al Northern District of Georgia Eleanor L Ross
Aaron Jophlin, et al. (class action) District of South Carolina Bruce Howe Hendricks
Bartlett Taylor, et al Western District of Tennessee Mark S. Norris

The defendants in the Airbag explosion lawsuits MDL are

  • ARC Automotive
  • Kia Corporation and KIA America, Inc
  • Hyundai Mobis Co., LD
  • Mobis Parts America, LLC

These defective airbag lawsuits allege that all the defendants were aware of the airbag defect and the posed dangers from the prior injuries and deaths. They alleged that ARC has kept the use of ammonium nitrate masked from the consumers.

As we have seen earlier, a wrongful death lawsuit filed by the family of Marlene M. Beaudoin is also pending.

The outcome of the MDL will show course of the litigation in all the exploding ARC airbag lawsuits. Let’s hope the ARC airbag lawsuits settlements and recalls alert the drivers of vehicles with faulty airbags on the road.

December 2023 Update on Airbag Lawsuits

Attorneys across the US are still taking lawsuits against ARC automotive defective airbags. These claims will take some time to resolve as these are still in infancy.

Do you have an airbag lawsuit?

If you or your loved one is injured by exploding arc airbags or lost someone you loved to fatal airbag explosion injuries, you can proceed with an airbag injury lawsuit.

Gathering the evidence of the detrimental injuries in photos or videos, collating the statements of eyewitnesses, fragments of metal shards from the airbag explosion, debris inside the compartment, and the proof that your car had an Arc airbag inflator will fortify your claim.

Seeking the counsel of an expert defective airbag injury attorney soon after the accident will increase the chances of winning your claim.

Medical records with documentation of the presence of metal fragments in the injuries, the nature and type of injuries you have sustained and the treatments necessitated stand proof for your damages.

A medical record review company like LezDo TechMed can help you in doing an evidence-based medical record review to dig out the valid evidences and assist your exploding arc airbag lawyer to get compensation for airbag injuries.

To wind up,

An airbag recall is one of the most important actions a maker can take to ensure the safety of its consumers. When a manufacturer denies a recall, it sends a crystal clear message that it does not evaluate the potential risk as valid or serious. This denial of responsibility puts consumers at risk and can have significant legal repercussions for the manufacturer.

This unfolding story will likely change the course of airbag manufacturing and automobile safety protocols, ushering in a new era of responsibility and accountability in the automotive industry.

However, all the drivers and owners of automobiles should make sure if their vehicles come under the ARC recall list. Staying informed and proactive can save lives.

Let’s hope ARC will make an airbag recall to prevent the dangers lurking behind each vehicle with ARC inflators.

Stay tuned with us to know more on ARC airbag recall 2023 controversies and future updates on airbag lawsuits.

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MedLegal360 is a specialized author in medical-legal matters, providing clear, authoritative insights on healthcare legislation and personal injury litigation for professionals and the curious.

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