Cal­i­for­nia vic­tim of Takata air bag

Jewel Brang­man, 26, was driv­ing a rented Honda that had been re­called for the de­fect but never re­paired.

Los Angeles Times - - BUSINESS - By Jerry Hirsch jerry.hirsch@latimes.com

Woman was driv­ing a rented Honda that had been re­called for de­fect but never re­paired.

Honda and fed­eral safety of­fi­cials on Fri­day con­firmed the first Cal­i­for­nia fatality caused by ex­plod­ing Takata air bags.

The death of Jewel Brang­man, 26, in a Los An­ge­les crash Sept. 7 re­sulted from a com­bi­na­tion of com­mon safety fail­ures. Brang­man was driv­ing a rented Civic that had been re­called for the air bag prob­lem but never fixed. More­over, it was a car that was to­taled in an ear­lier crash, re­built and tagged with a sal­vage ti­tle.

The ac­ci­dent should bol­ster fed­eral reg­u­la­tors’ calls to out­law the rental or sale of any ve­hi­cle with un­re­paired re­calls, said Mark Rosekind, ad­min­is­tra­tor of the Na­tional High­way Traf­fic Safety Ad­min­is­tra­tion.

Brang­man was driv­ing a 2001 Honda Civic from Sunset Car Rental in San Diego that had been re­called sev­eral times for air bag in­flater prob­lems. Sunset has a dis­con­nected phone num­ber and could not be reached for com­ment.

The fatality ex­poses “one of the f laws in the re­call sys­tem, “said Clarence Dit­low, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of the Cen­ter for Auto Safety. “The in­for­ma­tion doesn’t al­ways get to the per­son who is driv­ing the car.”

The air bag prob­lem sparked a re­call ear­lier this year of 34 mil­lion ve­hi­cles from many dif­fer­ent brands. It was the largest au­to­mo­bile re­call in history and among the largest of any U.S. con­sumer prod­uct. A me­tal can­is­ter in the air bag sys­tem can ex­plode, spray­ing shrap­nel into the cabin.

Brang­man suf­fered a lac­er­a­tion to the left side of her neck and a se­vere brain in­jury, ac­cord­ing to a Los An­ge­les County Su­pe­rior Court law­suit filed by her fam­ily ear­lier this year. The suit al­leges that both Takata and Honda had known for years that there were prob­lems with the air bag in­flaters and should have moved more quickly to fix the ve­hi­cles.

On Fri­day, a Honda spokesman de­clined to say whether the au­tomaker was in set­tle­ment talks with Brang­man’s fam­ily. The com­pany did is­sue a state­ment say­ing that it is “in com­mu­ni­ca­tion with rep­re­sen­ta­tives of the fam­ily in an ef­fort to ad­dress their con­cerns.”

Honda has now con­firmed six deaths and more than 60 in­juries in the U.S. re­lated to Takata air bag in­flater ex­plo­sions. Most of the in­ci­dents have oc­curred in re­gions with high heat and hu­mid­ity, in­clud­ing Florida, Texas and Louisiana. The latest in­ci­dent demon­strates that the in­flaters can ex­plode in milder cli­mates, Dit­low said.

Honda said the ve­hi­cle driven by Brang­man had a check­ered history.

The Civic was is­sued a sal­vage ti­tle in Cal­i­for­nia in Oc­to­ber 2011. It was sold through an au­to­mo­bile auc­tion to Sunset Car Rentals, a small agency, in Novem­ber 2011. Brang­man rented the ve­hi­cle on Aug. 17.

Honda said the Civic was re­called to re­place the in­flater in July 2009, but var­i­ous reg­is­tered own­ers failed to bring the car to a deal­er­ship for re­pairs. The au­tomaker said four mailed re­call no­ti­fi­ca­tions were sent to reg­is­tered own­ers of the Civic start­ing in Au­gust 2009.

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