Ex-FBI chief tapped to administer Takata air bag fund

Keith Laing
Detroit News Washington Bureau

Former FBI Director Robert Mueller III has been appointed by U.S. District Court in Detroit to administer a $1 billion fund that Japanese air bag manufacturer Takata Corp. was required to set up to compensate drivers who purchased autos that were built with the faulty parts, as well as companies that used defective air bag inflators in their cars.

U.S. District Judge George Caram Steeh tapped Mueller to be the “special master” of the Takata fund, which was set up as a part of deal between the beleaguered air bag maker and federal regulators that required the company to plead guilty to wire fraud and pay $975 million in restitution and $25 million in fines for the faulty air bags.

Mueller was FBI director from 2001 to 2013 under former presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama. A former U.S. attorney in San Francisco, he is a partner in the WilmerHale law firm’s Washington, D.C., office.

Flying shrapnel from exploding Takata air bag inflators have led to a recall of nearly 70 million inflators. The faulty air bag inflators have been linked to 11 deaths and more than 180 injuries in the United States, and at least one more death outside the U.S.

The recall of nearly 70 million Takata air bag inflators is being conducted in phases that target the must vulnerable cars that are located in humid climates; Michigan is among the lowest-priority states in the recall.

It is the largest automotive callback in U.S. history. Approximately 46 million Takata air bags in 29 million cars already are subject to recall, with another 20 million to 25 million additional air bags set to be recalled with the next couple of years. Takata has been ordered to recall all of the faulty air bags by the end of 2019.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration says the recall of defective air bag inflators made by Takata will encompass 34 vehicle brands and about 42 million cars in the U.S when it is completed. The agency says 14 million Takata air bags have been repaired as of March 3.

Takata has been under fire since issuing a recall in late 2014 of about 8 million cars in areas of the country with high humidity. Humid conditions cause propellant in Takata’s inflators to become unstable and explode with excessive force. The recall was later expanded after federal regulators put pressure on Takata to extended warnings beyond areas of the country where weather conditions are humid.


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Twitter: @Keith_Laing