The Federal Court legal action will allege Toyota, Honda and Mazda are breaching consumer law provisions by not replacing faulty airbags despite a recall, global law firm Quinn Emanuel Urquhart and Sullivan announced on Tuesday.
“It is quite frankly, outrageous and almost inconceivable that there are over one million cars on Australian roads that contain a ‘safety’ product that could, at any time, explode with lethal force,” lawyer Damian Scattini said.
The Australian government could impose mandatory recalls on faulty airbags linked to 18 deaths around the world if it’s not satisfied major car manufacturers are doing enough voluntarily.
A competition watchdog investigation was launched after consumer group Choice warned some car companies were replacing faulty Takata airbags with the same potentially-deadly devices.
Following the revelation, the federal government said it had jointly written to all automotive manufacturers implicated in the massive worldwide recall demanding a “comprehensive status” on their progress.
In a statement on Monday, Small Business Minister Michael McCormack said he wielded the power to trigger a mandatory recall on advice from the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission.
Toyota and Lexus confirmed they used the same airbags and would need to refit some vehicles, while Choice also said Mazda, Lexus, BMW and Subaru had made the same mistake.
Nissan said it had been replacing faulty airbags, but in May last year it was revealed the replacements would also be captured under a recall that covered airbags without a chemical drying agent.
The newer version would not present any “unreasonable risk” for at least six years, the company said.
The airbags’ fault involves the ammonium nitrate used to trigger inflation. The chemical can deteriorate over time and cause a metal canister to explode too forcefully, projecting shrapnel.
More than 2.3 million vehicles in Australia were subject to the recall originally issued back in 2009, but only 850,000 have had their Takata airbags replaced.
A 58-year-old man who died in a Sydney car crash last week is suspected to be the 18th person globally – and the first in Australia – to have been killed as a result of the faulty product after police said he was struck by fragments.