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Automakers settle suit over Takata air bags

Published:Thursday | May 18, 2017 | 12:00 AM

Toyota, Subaru, Mazda and BMW have reached a proposed settlement that would compensate owners of 15.8 million vehicles for money they lost due to the massive recall of Takata airbags.

In documents filed Thursday with a federal court in Miami, the automakers agreed to pay US$553 million to compensate owners and widen their efforts to make sure vehicles are being repaired. The court must still approve the settlement.

Takata's airbag inflators can explode with too much force, hurling shrapnel into drivers and passengers. The inflators are blamed for at least 16 deaths and 180 injuries worldwide. The problem touched off the largest automotive recall in United States history involving 42 million vehicles and 69 million airbag inflators.

US safety regulators have determined that older cars are at the highest risk, since a chemical Takata used in its airbags can break down over time when it's exposed to humidity. The 2002-2006 BMW 3 Series, 2003-2006 Mazda6, 2005-2008 Subaru Legacy and 2003-2007 Toyota Corolla are among the vehicles covered by this settlement that are considered the highest risk.

The settlement affects 9.2 million Toyota vehicles, 2.6 million Subaru vehicles, 2.3 million BMW vehicles and 1.7 million Mazda vehicles. The recall affects vehicles as far back as the 2000 model year and as recent as the 2016 model year.

Toyota would pay the most under the settlement, at US$278.5 million.

Nissan, Honda and Ford are also part of the ongoing federal court case, but plaintiffs' attorney Peter Prieto wouldn't say Thursday whether he is talking to those companies about similar settlements.

Japanese auto supplier Takata Corp. pleaded guilty to fraud in federal court in February. The company has agreed to pay US$1 billion in penalties for concealing defects with its air bags.