Serena Martinez, 42, was injured in a low-speed crash while driving a 2002 Honda Civic in Fort Bend County, Texas on September 11, 2016. The airbag exploded on impact, spewing metal shrapnel that severely lacerated her chest and arm.
Martinez said she only lived because the shrapnel pierced her chest instead of her neck and narrowly missed a major artery.
“I thought I was going to bleed to death,” she said. “I don’t understand how something that was supposed to protect me actually ended up causing my injuries.”
The airbag in her car was made by Takata Corp., a Japanese auto parts company that controls 30% of the airbag market worldwide. The airbags are inflated by explosive ammonium nitrate in a metal canister. If it burns all at once, the canister can blow apart and send metal shrapnel through the airbag into passengers.
At least 16 deaths and over 150 injuries have been reported, mainly in the U.S. The crisis has resulted in the largest safety recall in history — 70 million airbag inflators sold by 15 auto-makers.
Lawyers say Takata has known for decades that ammonium nitrate is dangerously unstable, especially after it is exposed to moisture. Explosions have mainly occurred in hot and humid regions. U.S. regulators want Takata to recall all airbags that use ammonium nitrate but lack a drying agent by 2019.
Lawyers for Martinez filed a lawsuit October 31, 2016 in state district court in Houston, Texas.
Yesterday, her attorneys reported a confidential settlement in a similar case. The 17 year-old victim, Huma Hanif, was driving a 2002 Honda Civic near Houston when she rear-ended another vehicle at low speed. When the airbag exploded, metal shrapnel lacerated her neck. She died at the scene of the accident on March 31, 2016.