A Special Master appointed by Federal Judge Moreno of the US District Court for the Southern District of Florida overseeing the Takata defective airbag lawsuits recommended this week that Judge Moreno order BMW to search its complaint, claims, and lawsuit databases for documents relating to incidents of non-deployment in BMW’s recalled vehicles equipped with Takata airbags.
Honda airbag completely detached from steering wheel after explosion.
The question before the Special Master arose from a document discovery dispute over whether requests by the Plaintiffs were related to their claims, or whether they were likely to lead to the discovery of admissible evidence. As noted by the Special Master, the Plaintiffs claim that the airbags “have an unreasonably dangerous tendency to: (a) rupture and expel metal shrapnel that tears through the airbag and poses a threat of serious injury or death to occupants; (b) hyper-aggressively deploy and seriously injure occupants through contact with the airbag; and (c) fail to deploy altogether.”
The Takata airbag claim Plaintiffs argue that because the Complaint includes claims that airbags fail to deploy, in addition to rupturing and hyper-aggressively deploying, documents relating to non-deployment are relevant. They contend that BMW should be required to “search for and produce documents from its databases of consumer complaints, claims, lawsuits, and accidents relating to incidents involving the non-deployment of airbags in recalled BMW vehicles equipped with Takata airbags, as Plaintiffs’ have requested in their Second Request for Production.” Such documents, they argue, “unquestionably relate to specific allegations in Plaintiffs’ complaints.”
Throughout my research into Takata patents, which was reported on by Bloomberg and used by the New York Times, it is evident that Takata for years prior to many of the reported accidents knew of the risk of non-deployment as a result of the airbag defects. Though BMW tried to argue that they should only produce document pertaining to hyper-aggressive deployment or airbag ruptures, the non-deployment cases should be equally considered.
In considering the Motion to Compel Discovery, the Special Master considered Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 26(b)(1), which permits discovery if it is (a) relevant to a claim or defense and (b) proportional to the needs of the case. Specifically, the rule provides:
Parties may obtain discovery regarding any nonprivileged matter that is relevant to any party’s claim or defense and proportional to the needs of the case, considering the importance of the issues at stake in the action, the amount in controversy, the parties’ relative access to relevant information, the parties’ resources, the importance of the discovery in resolving the issues, and whether the burden or expense of the proposed discovery outweighs its likely benefit. Information within this scope of discovery need not be admissible in evidence to be discoverable.
In finding that the request was both relevant and proportional to the needs of the case, the Special Master recommended that the Court overrule BMW’s objection to searching its databases of consumer complaints, claims, lawsuits, and accidents relating to incidents involving non-deployment of airbags in recalled BMW vehicles equipped with Takata airbags.
Once BMW produces evidence of its knowledge of non-deployment claims, it may open the door for many more lawsuits against them and Takata. These airbag injury claims may arise from BMWs that have defective airbags that should have deployed, but didn’t.