HOUSTON – The family of a Texas man who died in a minor traffic accident is alleging in a lawsuit that their loved one is the latest person to be killed by shrapnel shooting out of exploding air bags made by Takata Corp. of Japan.
Carlos Solis, 35, died on Jan. 18 in a minor crash in a Houston suburb. A lawsuit filed this week by his family alleges that when an air bag in his 2002 Honda Accord inflated, it sent a piece of metal into his neck. Solis died at the scene.
Takata is under fire for air bag inflators that can explode, shooting out metal and plastic pieces. At least five deaths and dozens of injuries have been linked to the problem worldwide. Ten automakers have recalled about 12 million vehicles in the U.S. and about 19 million globally for problems with the air bags. The company is still trying to determine the cause of the problem.
Solis’ death has not been officially linked to the faulty air bags. A preliminary report by the Harris County Institute of Forensic Sciences lists Solis’ cause of death as “blunt force injuries of the neck.” But a final autopsy report has not yet been completed.
April Strahan, one of the attorneys representing Solis’ family, said that she and representatives of Honda and Takata inspected the Honda Accord on Friday and confirmed that the Takata air bag’s inflator ruptured in the accident.
While the autopsy report is still pending, the “injuries we have seen that result in fatalities in these accidents (are) consistent with what we are seeing with evidence in (Friday’s) vehicle inspection,” Strahan said.
In a statement, American Honda said that Friday’s inspection confirmed that the air bag inflator ruptured in Solis’ vehicle.
“Our thoughts and deepest sympathies are with the family of the driver during this difficult time. Honda is currently in communication with representatives of the family in an effort to further investigate the situation and to address their concerns,” the company said in its statement.
Honda has said it mailed recall notification letters to the previous owner of the Accord starting in 2011, but it had not yet sent a letter to the current owner.
The company urged anyone with a vehicle recalled for air bag problems to take the cars to dealers as soon as possible.
In a statement Friday, Takata also offered condolences to Solis’ family and said the company’s “number one priority is the safety of the driving public.”
The lawsuit, filed on Tuesday, alleges that Takata and Honda were negligent because the air bag was defective and unreasonably dangerous and they failed to properly test it.
Also named as a defendant in the lawsuit was All Stars Auto Sales, the Houston-area car dealership that sold Solis the car in April 2014. A spokesman for the dealership did not immediately return a call Friday.
The lawsuit alleges that the dealership failed to replace the air bag following recalls issued by Honda before selling the car to Solis.
The lawsuit, filed on behalf of Solis’ two children, is asking for unspecified damages.
On Friday, U.S. Senators Bill Nelson, D-Fla., Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn. and Ed Markey, D-Mass., wrote to National Highway Traffic Safety Administration Administrator Mark Rosekind asking that the agency compel Takata and car manufacturers to work with additional air bag manufacturers to speed up the replacement process and that the agency conduct its own independent testing of Takata air bags.
Follow Juan A. Lozano on Twitter at www.twitter.com/juanlozano70