The photos of Serena Martinez show the extent of her injuries after a Takata airbag went off in her car following a low-speed accident outside of Houston.
If you think the photos are tough for you to look at, imagine how Martinez feels.
“I get emotional,” Martinez told ABC 33/40 News Investigates. “I start crying. I’m not happy on how I look. I know that I’m blessed to be alive, but just looking at the pictures, I get very emotional. I cry all the time.”
Martinez is suing the Takata Corporation, the car manufacturer, and the driver of the other car involved in the accident. At the heart of the lawsuit: An allegation of “an essential design flaw” to use ammonium nitrate as an airbag propellant.
“I don’t have a very high opinion of their (Takata’s) conduct from the beginning,” Martinez’ attorney Muhammad Aziz said. “This whole concept of putting ammonium nitrate into this application — of putting an explosive material into an airbag inflator—was just a bad idea to begin with.”
Ammonium nitrate, which is found in fertilizer, has been tied to industrial accidents and terrorist attacks, including the 2002 nightclub bombing in Bali that killed 202 people and the 1995 bombing of the federal building in Oklahoma City that killed 168 people.
According to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, the Takata frontal airbags, with the ammonium nitrate-based propellant that's being recalled, don’t have a chemical drying agent to counteract moisture buildup inside the cartridge.
Heat and humidity can cause the propellant to break down and become unsafe. So, when the propellant degrades over time, the metal inflators can rupture when the airbag goes off in an accident—and that sends metal shrapnel flying through the airbag and inside the car. Older inflators are more likely to rupture than newer versions of the same type.
“The doctor that performed the stitches on my chest said that I was lucky to be alive,” Martinez said. “Because my wound was so bad it looked like somebody stabbed me with a knife.”
Flying metal shrapnel from faulty Takata airbags has resulted in 11 deaths in the United States and more than 100 injuries. That risk of injury or death has prompted a massive recall of more than 69 million Takata airbag inflators in more than 30 brands of cars in this country. It’s the biggest auto recall ever.
So far, more than 12 million driver and passenger-side airbags have been repaired. That’s only 17 percent of the total airbags involved in the recall.
A report by Florida Senator Bill Nelson says that more than two million of the replacement airbag inflators are the same type that’s being recalled. So, they’ll have to be replaced again in the future.
Everyone needs to take this recall seriously—and check out the government website safercar.gov.
If you see your car on the list, or you receive a recall notice, check with your dealer about repairs and follow their recommendations.
And this is especially important: The National Highway Traffic Safety administration says certain 2001-2003 Honda and Acura cars with Takata airbags should be driven straight to the dealer to have them repaired immediately. That’s because the Takata airbag inflators in those cars are at higher risk of rupture when an airbag goes off in an accident.
If you don’t feel comfortable driving one of those cars to the dealer. Honda will pay for a tow truck.
I received a recall notice about the Takata airbags in my car a few months ago. But the manufacturer told me that no remedy is available until sometime next year. And here’s the problem: The car company recommends that no one should sit in the front passenger seat because the Takata airbag is located in the dashboard. Think about that. I tried the “Driving Miss Daisy” approach and had my wife sit in the back seat, but that wasn’t practical—and it really looked odd. So, if we go somewhere, we take my wife’s car.
We checked with the Center for Auto Safety, a leading consumer group, about the safety of passengers in the car. Acting director Michael Brooks said that front seats aren’t designed to protect rear seat passengers from shrapnel.
“Takata maintains that rear seat passengers would be protected from shrapnel by the front seat structure,” Brooks said. Takata hasn’t produced any real-world evidence that front seats provide sufficient protection.”
The spokesman for the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration said the federal agency isn’t aware of any injuries to passengers in rear seats.
But, if you have concerns about that, be sure to check with your dealer or the car manufacturer to see if they’ll give you a rental car.
Takata wouldn't answer our specific questions. They also turned down our request for an on-camera interview.
Takata spokesman Jared Levy with Sard Verbinnen & Co, a strategic communications firm, simply issued this statement:
“Our thoughts are with the driver who was injured in this accident. Takata strongly urges all consumers to check NHTSA'S www.safercar.gov website and contact their dealers immediately if they discover their vehicle is subject to a recall, and to follow any and all safety instructions given by the automakers and car dealers. Takata's number one priority is the safety of the driving public.”