Are there more airbag injuries than being reported?

Posted at 4:07 PM, Sep 13, 2017
and last updated 2017-09-13 23:19:34-04

It's the largest auto recall in U.S. history.

It has been plagued with scandal, parts shortages and long waits, while injury totals grow. But some say the number of people injured by faulty Takata airbags is actually much higher than being reported.

Bill Williams is a forensic investigator whose been working with victim's attorneys looking into Takata cases. He came to the ABC15 studios from his South Carolina offices to show us how Takata inflators can rupture and cause injuries and potentially death.

He also showed us how some inflators don't get to the point of rupture.

But he says they do quickly expand, sending the airbag out faster and harder than designed. Williams calls that an "aggressive deployment" of the airbag.

He and South Carolina victim's attorney Kevin Dean say when an airbag aggressively deploys, it's like "hitting a brick wall or being punched in the face by a pro boxer."

Dean says he's involved with many such cases and he knows of many more.

Take the case of Patricia Mincey. Her lawsuit involving Takata airbags claims she had a "minor collision." Yet the airbag "deployed with such excessive force that it rendered her a quadriplegic."

She later died; the case was settled.

Dean says inflators that don't rupture are not included in government injury totals.

NHTSA did not answer our questions about aggressive deployments and injury totals. So far, the government hasn't linked any Arizona injuries or deaths to this recall.

But that doesn't mean Arizona owners should not take the recall seriously.

While here, Williams tested an airbag inflator temperature in the ABC15 parking lot. He says "the hotter the inflator it does increase the chance for a rupture."

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration acknowledges when mixed with the propellant in certain Takata airbag inflators it can cause ruptures, injuries and deaths.  

Williams test showed the inflator got to more than 150 degrees. No doubt Arizona has the heat danger.

But by far, Takata airbag ruptures happened with older cars in hot and wet states.

We don't have much moisture but it may not take much.

Attorney Dean says "when you get a small amount of moisture, its like mold. It grows over time and just needs a starting point."

Have you driven to Flagstaff or California? Maybe your used car came from a wetter place.

"The car didn't necessarily spend its life in Phoenix. It could have come from one of those states," Williams says.

So check your Vehicle Identification Number at the NHTSA website. If your airbags have been recalled make an appointment and get them replaced.

If not, be prepared that it could be recalled in the near future.