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[WASHINGTON] Leading auto manufacturers, including BMW and Nissan, equipped their cars with Takata airbags despite knowing they were dangerous, according to legal filings reviewed on Tuesday by AFP.
The claims, laid out in a civil case against Takata and leading automakers, broadens responsibility for the scandal to auto manufacturers, who have largely been seen as victims in the exploding airbags scandal.
The debacle led to the largest global auto recall ever following 16 fatalities, 11 in the United States.
On Monday, Tokyo-based Takata formally pleaded guilty and agreed to pay US$1 billion after admitting to defrauding customers and auto manufacturers by misrepresenting the performance of airbag inflators.
The US$1 billion settlement included US$125 million for individuals injured by Takata airbags and US$850 million for auto manufacturers to cover airbag recall and replacement costs, the Justice Department said.
But lawyers representing victims in the case said the large automakers were hardly blameless in the fiasco.
"Automotive defendants had independent knowledge ... that Takata's airbags were not safe well before installing them in millions of vehicles," said a filing from plaintiffs attorneys at Podhurst Orseck, a law firm.
The car companies were "aware that rupture after rupture, both during testing and in the field, confirmed how dangerous and defective Takata's airbags were," the filing said.
"For the automotive defendants to call themselves victims insults the real victims here - hundreds of people who have seriously injured or killed." Plaintiffs attorneys are still building their case, but said evidence so far pointed to early knowledge of Takata airbag flaws at Honda, Toyota, Nissan, Ford and BMW.
Most of those companies did not immediately respond to an AFP request for comment. BMW said it could not comment on current litigation.
The problem is linked to a defect that can cause safety devices to inflate with excessive force, sending shrapnel from the inflator canister hurtling toward drivers and passengers.