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JPML Chooses Florida as Location for Takata Air Bag MDL

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On February 5, 2015, the U.S. Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation (JPML) issued a transfer order to move five Takata air bag class action lawsuits from three different federal districts into the Southern District of Florida for coordinated pre-trial proceedings. An additional 65-plus actions currently pending in a number of other districts will also be moved to Florida.

Coordination is expected to help reduce risk of duplicative discovery and inconsistent rulings, and to help increase efficiency in resolving all cases.

Plaintiffs and Defendants Disagree On Location

Plaintiffs filed a motion for centralization on November 3, 2014. They noted that an MDL would be appropriate since all Takata lawsuits shared common questions of fact, including that the air bags could violently explode, causing serious and deadly injuries to vehicle occupants.

They also suggested the Southern District of Florida at the time, because two of the ending class action lawsuits were filed there, and because the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) had identified Florida as being particularly affected by air-bag problems. Prior studies by Takata indicated that the air bags were more likely to malfunction in areas of high humidity, like Florida.

Defendants Takata and various automakers supported the idea of consolidation, but disagreed on the location. Honda, together with BMW, Subaru, Ford, and others, suggested the Western District of Pennsylvania, because it was closer to their headquarters and would prove a more central location to all defendants.

Some plaintiffs also argued for the Central District of California, because it would be an easier place for representatives from Japan to get to. Other suggested locations included the Northern District of Georgia, the Eastern District of Louisiana, the Eastern District of Michigan, the Eastern District of New York, the Southern District of New York, the Southern District of Texas, and the Western District of Washington.

Panel Chooses Florida

In the transfer order, the panel decided upon the Southern District of Florida for the following reasons:

• No one district stood out as a geographic focal point, because Takata and all the automakers had offices and facilities all over the country.
• It was especially important to choose an “experienced jurist” to be the transferee judge, and the panel believed Federico A. Moreno to be such a jurist. They noted that he has been on the federal bench since 1990, and was a state court judge before that, and that he has substantial MDL experience.

Two Takata air bag lawsuits from the Central District of California, and one from the Eastern District of Michigan were transferred into the Southern District of Florida, to join the two cases already pending there.

Takata Whistleblower Claims the Company Put Profits Over Safety

Millions of Takata air bags have been recalled because of their potential to explode upon deployment. About six people have been killed and over 100 injured because of this defect, and though Takata believes humidity and a manufacturing issue to be part of the problem, so far no one has been able to pinpoint exactly why the air bags are malfunctioning.

Recently, a former Takata engineer stepped forward to say he would testify that the company made an unwise choice in materials for the air bag propellants. Rather than stick with the chemical they were using, they switched in 1999 to the cheaper and unstable ammonium nitrate. The employee warned them about the risks, and when they didn’t heed his warnings, he left the company, stating that he did not want his name associated with the outcome.