When you are in an accident you expect your airbag to protect you. But more and more South Floridians are finding their airbags doing more damage than good. You may have heard about a massive airbag recall. It appears the problem is not going away any time soon. If anything it's getting worse. CBS4's David Sutta investigated what is going on and what you need to know to avoid getting hurt or even killed by your airbag.
Leslie McCloud was in a daze.
"Blood was just dripping down my sweatshirt. I couldn't really hear. All I heard was a click, click, click," he recalls.
The front of his car was dented in.
"I hit something - a pothole or something in the road - and it caused me to swerve and lose control of the wheel."
A light posted stopped the car. Remarkably he walked away. He considers himself lucky.
"Very lucky," he said.
Inside a Hialeah auto body shop McCloud's car has sat for months. It's evidence in his lawsuit against the manufacturer of the car. His attorney Jason Turchin pointed it out across the warehouse.
"This is the vehicle after the accident," said Turchin while pointing out the car. From the outside it looks like it had just a minor fender bender.
"It wasn't a catastrophic accident by any means," he explained. When he opened the door to the car, it looked like a bomb went off. The instruments were in pieces. The airbag was not where it should be. It's sitting in pieces in the driver's seat.
Turchin looked at the damage and explained, "Leslie could have died. The only difference between Leslie getting hurt and dying was chance."
When an airbag activates during an accident it is supposed to keep you from hitting the steering wheel. When Leslie's car hit the pole, he claims the airbag inflated and came right out at him in pieces. The force created havoc on his head.
"Basically I have a fractured jaw. My ear drum was punctured and blood was rushing through my ears," Leslie said.
Turchin explained, "Instead this entire airbag, this entire component shot out and exploded out from the airbag. And you can see there are lots of pieces all over the floor from behind here."
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration actually has slow motion video of the malfunction. Instead of an airbag coming out, you see the airbag parts flying everywhere.
"These can come out at a couple hundred miles an hour. It can break someone's jaw. It could kill them. It can whip their neck back. I mean pieces of metal have shot out at people and stabbed them in the face, in the back." Turchin said.
Turchin has more photos than you care to see of clients maimed by their airbags. The car companies have been alerting car owners of the risk. Leslie's notice though was a little too late. A week after the crash, he got something in the mail.
"We got a notice that there was a recall," he chuckled at the irony of it.
Leslie's car, a 2004 Honda Accord, is part of a 70 million-car recall that includes 20 major car brands on the road. The cars contain airbags made by Japanese company Takata. For two years now, Takata has been trying to fix the problem. However, with so many cars, it's going to take a while by Turchin's estimate.
"It's going to take six years or more to fix all these affected vehicles. That's impossible," he said.
Turchin said he took a closer look at the data and found that people driving cars like Leslie's may be at greatest risk. Since 2009 - 11 deaths have been linked to faulty airbags. Out of those 11 deaths, 8 people were driving 2001-2004 Honda Civics and Accords.
Coincidence? Turchin thinks not.
"Get these vehicles off the road immediately. Every day that these vehicles are on the road, if there is a crash within a vehicle that hasn't had their airbag replaced, those people could die or get injured just because of their airbag. Nothing to do with their accident," he said. As of right now, the recall is prioritizing not by make and model but where your car is parked. If you live in higher humidity states, like Florida, you are at greater risk of failures and get priority. Still replacement airbags are hard to come by.
What do you do if you have this car? Turchin grimaced because there is not much to be done right now.
"I would recommend you get your car inspected. If there are not enough parts to fix your car or to fix your airbag, go to a mechanic and get your airbag inspected at the very least," said Turchin.
For most people not driving, their recalled car is not an option.
Leslie is now driven everywhere by his daughter and son-in-law. He's afraid to get behind the wheel. He hopes sharing his story will save lives.
"I'm just grateful to be alive. I hope that this makes a difference and it helps someone else before something else happens to their family," he said.
Turchin has actually come up with a fix he says will prevent future airbag recalls. It's a simple system that allows consumers to check their airbag for any defects or corrosion. He's filed a patent on the idea and is pitching it to car companies. To see if you are driving a car that's airbag has been recalled, click here or view below.
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