On May 23, 1995 it was announced that over eight million vehicles seat belt buckles were to be replaced or repaired under a voluntary safety recall campaign conducted by Honda, Mazda, Nissan, Mitsubishi, Daihatsu, Ford, Subaru, Suzuki, Izuzu, General Motors, Geo, Chrysler, and U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) and National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA). The Takata seat belt buckles manufactured by Takata Corporation were used in nearly in all the FRONT seats and some BACK seats of nine million cars, trucks and sport utility vehicles (SUV) between 1986 and 1991. The investigation revealed that the Takata buckles’ release buttons have broken or cracked rendering it in a dangerous condition. If the buckles’ release button cracks or breaks off, then the buckle may false latch, inadvertently unlatch, fail under a load, partially unlatch , become inoperative and not latch at all.
Why are some Takata buckles defective ? Due to the fact that many of the victims of the Takata buckles suffer serious head injuries or they are killed in the wreck or rollover, their sworn testimony of seat belt usage immediately prior is difficult or even impossible to obtain, and must be pursued from eye witnesses, the physical evidence, medical records and/or death certificates. ALSO the investigating officer many times incorrectly assumes that the person was not wearing a belt, since the person is found after the accident in an un-belted position or ejected from the vehicle itself. Many times if the investigating officer would look at other evidence of belt usage, and understood the nature of the defect then many times the police report would correctly reflect the correct belt usage. Such evidence can include lacerations or bruising of the upper torso indicating the the interaction of the torso and the unsecured(unlatched shoulder belt) during the collision, torn and loaded seatbelt webbing at buckle and the D-Ring indicating loading at the point of the impact. Loading of the belt is not always present, especially in cases where the buckle was falsely latched and released upon a slight force of energy.
The resulting injuries to the previously belted front seat occupants can greatly accelerate due to no restraint system to prevent the person from impacting the dashboard, windshield, roof pillar( roof support), steering wheel, or even being ejected, (especially in rollovers). Such injuries can vary from severe head injuries, spinal cord injuries ( paraplegia and quadriplegia) and even death.
When the buckle is working correctly as designed, the latch plate (male) is fully inserted into the buckle (female) and then with the assistance of a spring, a spring loaded latch rotates into the the hole in the latch plate. The lock plate then slides forward to lock the latch into its secure position. To unlatch, the red button is depressed, which slides away and re-rotates the lock plate and exposes the opening(hole) in the latch plate. Then as the latch rotates up, the hole in the latch plate slides over the projections in the buckle housing. Then the spring loaded ejector pushes the latch plate out of the buckle. The problem happens when the latch plate slides over the projections on the buckle housing, it can wear it, catch it or hang it up. The design of the buckle actually encourages this hang up on the buckle housing. Additionally, the design of the spring pushes the latch plate into the hole of the latch plate. When the push button is then depressed, the force on the spring vanishes to nothing, allowing the latch plate to further hang up in the housing instead of being pushed out of this area of the buckle, where it can hang up on the sides or edges of the latch plate.
Note: All below listed vehicles have the Recalled Takata Buckle in the FRONT outboard seating positions, unless noted otherwise. This list may not be complete.
If you or a loved one has been seriously injured or died as a result of the failure of a defective Takata seat belt buckle failure, then you may have a legal action against the Takata Corporation and/or the automobile manufacturer of the vehicle. Such legal actions usually include demands for (past & future) damages for medical expenses; pain and suffering; mental anquish; physical impairment and disfigurement, loss of earnings AND PUNITIVE DAMAGES.
If you would like to know more what can be done to protect your legal rights, call for a Free Confidential Consultation or call the attorney of your choosing in your State. It is important to know, that each State has Statutes of Limitations that govern when a case must be filed. If on waits TOO LONG, the Statute of Limitations may expire and prevent the filing and recovery in your case. Additionally time is of the essence in these types of cases as in any major products liability case a full investigation is necessary, witness statements, photogragh of the wreck obtained AND the vehicle must be obtained and preserved as evidence. Many times the vehicle has been sold by ones insurance company and must be located and retrieved in order to document and inspect the Takata seat belt buckle and the interior of the vehicle.