Takata pleads guilty, agrees to pay $1 billion fine over falsifying airbag safety test results.

Airbag Compartment

Three Takata executives face federal indictments over their role in the airbag manufacturer's ongoing safety crisis, which now encompasses a 70 million vehicle recall.

Takata Pleads Guilty To Criminal Charges

In court documents unsealed on January 13, 2017, government prosecutors accuse Shinichi Tanaka, Hideo Nakajima and Tsuneo Chikaraishi of fabricating safety test results to hide deadly defects in Takata airbags. One 2005 email, quoted in the indictment and reported by the New York Times, features Mr. Nakajima, a former Takata research director, telling his compatriots that "they had no choice but to manipulate test data."

The charges, announced by federal prosecutors on January 13, 2017, came on the same day that Takata agreed to plead guilty to criminal charges of wire fraud, a charge related to the company's submission of falsified safety data to government safety regulators. Prosecutors say the company will also pay a $1 billion fine. The guilty plea is a "rare outcome" for criminal cases that involve large companies, the New York Times notes. When accused of wrongdoing, most businesses ultimately settle their cases but continue to deny any alleged misconduct.

Takata "Falsified" Airbag Data, Prosecutors Say

In a press conference, Barbara L. McQuade, a prosecutor for the US District Court of Michigan, was unambiguous in her denunciation of Takata's actions. "They falsified and manipulated data," the US attorney said, "because they wanted to make profits on their airbags, knowing they were creating risk for the end-users."

Takata's airbags, which can explode suddenly even in minor collisions, have been blamed for at least 11 deaths and over 180 severe injuries in the US. Many victims have already filed Takata lawsuits against the company, including families who lost loved ones. Takata has quietly settled a number of these claims.

Prosecutors Seek Extradition Of Takata Executives

Takata has been repeatedly accused of delaying a full recall of its defective airbags, but over recent months, the company has cooperated with prosecutors, even identifying responsible individuals. The three company executives under indictment are believed to live in Japan, leaving in doubt whether or not the men will ever face a United States court.

While the US and Japan have shared an extradition treaty since 1978, Tokyo has a degree of latitude in consenting to requests submitted by the US. Takata itself, on the other hand, has proved compliant in the past. In 2013, three of the company's executives pleaded guilty to a price-fixing scheme involving seat belts, the US Department of Justice reports, agreeing to serve out sentences in an American prison. In her comments on the case, Ms. McQuade said that Takata's previous compliance with US courts gave federal prosecutors a "pretty good" chance of securing the extradition of Shinichi Tanaka, Hideo Nakajima and Tsuneo Chikaraishi.

The Legal Herald

About Laurence Banville

Attorney Contributor:

Laurence P. Banville, Esq. is the managing partner of Banville Law. He is a regular contributor on several topics including negligent security cases, child sexual abuse and Dram Shop and liquor liability cases.

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