The suits, which were filed individually to consolidate numerous earlier complaints, present as evidence documents which were obtained over the course of prior legal matters against Takata, according to NPR. Plaintiffs allege that the automakers were made aware of airbag inflator defects during tests but dragged their heels when it came to pursuing action in the matter.
The allegations leveled against GM are among the most serious and carry the harshest potential punishments. Internal documents indicate that the company had knowledge about the airbag inflators rupturing as far back as 2003.
The inflators contain ammonium nitrate, a volatile chemical compound used in bombs and other explosives, to inflate the airbags. However, the chemical can deteriorate quickly when exposed to extreme temperatures and moisture, which causes it to explode with excessive force, blowing apart a metal canister and ejecting shrapnel at high speed throughout the cabin.
At least 22 people have died worldwide and more than 180 have been hurt in incidents where Takata airbags were reported to eject in this fashion, according to The New York Times.
The suits, which consolidate individual claims that were previously filed, allege that owners paid higher prices for their vehicles than they would have if the defect had been disclosed.
They further claim that the defendants chose Takata to supply inflators because the cost was less than other manufacturers who used less volatile chemicals in their airbag inflators. According to the lawsuits, manufacturers had employees who questioned the quality and performance of Takata’s inflators well before any vehicles were recall.