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Air bag claims expand to include carmakers

New York readers know it can be hazardous on the streets of the city. Crime isn't the only concern. Cars and trucks are everywhere, sometimes navigating narrow streets. So are pedestrians. And while the weather might not be currently conducive to biking, cyclists can be found. Wherever the people involved in these activities intersect, there is a risk of injury.

One does not generally consider the inside of the vehicle a place of threat, but that, too, has changed. Safety air bags in many cars and trucks now pose a danger as explosive devices that can maim or kill, just at the time when it should be protecting lives. The issue, of course, is Takata air bags that might explode with too much force in even minor collisions, sending metal shards into the interiors of vehicles.

The defective products are blamed for at least 22 deaths and more than 180 injuries. As many as 69 million of the devices in 42 million vehicles are under recall and the repair and replace process is moving so slowly that tens of millions of vehicles are still on the road. That's prompting lawmakers in Washington to start pressing for explanations.

Meanwhile, Takata is under legal siege from injury victims. And earlier this month, a federal court in Miami received three class action suits against major carmakers. They allege that General Motors, Fiat Chrysler, Volkswagen and Mercedes were aware of the problems with the air bags years before recalls ever started. Takata documents related to the case reportedly show that GM employees raised concerns about the bags as long ago as 2003.

So far, VW has not responded to the claims. Fiat Chrysler has declined comment and the remaining two manufacturers say the allegations are without merit.

None of the claims in these suits seeks damages for physical injury. Rather, they seek financial compensation based on the claim that vehicle owners paid more for their products than they would have if the defects had disclosed.

We can only wait to see whether the suits succeed. In the meantime, concern must remain that there are millions of potentially deadly devices still plying the streets.

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