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The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, which already begun to investigate malfunctioning airbag controls on certain vehicles, is now expanding the probe to include 12.3 million vehicles from automakers like Toyota, Honda, Kia, Hyundai, Mitsubishi and Fiat Chrysler. West Virginia residents who own any 2010 to 2019 model vehicle from one of these brands may want to see if it's on NHTSA's list.

NHTSA upgraded the probe on April 19 from a preliminary evaluation to engineering analysis. It has not yet announced a vehicle recall (though Hyundai, Kia and Fiat Chrysler have already announced recalls). The airbag control units under investigation were produced by ZF-TRW; there are claims that the malfunction prevents the airbags from inflating in a crash and that it may have contributed to eight deaths so far.

This upgrade comes in the wake of two recent crashes, one of them fatal, that involved 2018 and 2019 Toyota Corollas with malfunctioning airbags. NHTSA will evaluate the airbag controls' receptivity to certain electric signals and other factors that may cause the airbag to stop from doing its job.

This is not the only airbag issue that the auto industry has experienced. The massive recall of Takata airbag inflators is still ongoing. These inflators are known to explode and send shrapnel into passengers. At least 24 deaths are linked to them.

Malfunctioning airbags may form the basis for many product liability cases. An injured party may file a claim against the automaker or against the airbag manufacturer. It all depends on whether the defect was a manufacturing, design or marketing defect. As for those who are killed, a family or another eligible dependent may file a wrongful death lawsuit. In either situation, it may be wise to build up the case with the assistance of a lawyer.

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