April 5, 2022, 12:34 PM; Updated: April 5, 2022, 3:00 PM
Volkswagen Group of America Inc. and Audi of America LLC’s $42 million settlement with car owners over Takata airbags merits final approval, and the deal’s outreach program to accelerate replacement should begin as soon as practicable, a federal court in Florida ruled.
About 9 million recall remedies have been performed under outreach programs conducted with seven other automakers that previously settled Takata Corp. airbag suits, a number that shows the programs’ success, Judge Federico A. Moreno said for the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida.
Moreno also approved $12.6 million in attorneys’ fees and expenses, or 30% of the fund, in an order docketed Monday.
Peter Prieto, lead counsel for the plaintiffs, told Bloomberg Law that the class representatives and VW are “on the same page.” Their common goal is “to get as many defective inflators as possible out of vehicles,” he said. Prieto is with Podhurst Orseck PA in Miami.
A spokesman for Volkswagen didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.
Three automakers remain in the litigation, according to Prieto: General Motors LLC, FCA US LLC, and Merecdes-Benz USA LLC. Briefing on class certification and summary judgment in those cases will be complete by May, he said.
The consumers allege their vehicles were equipped with defective Takata airbag inflators that could malfunction, sending shards of metal into drivers and passengers during accidents.
The litigation, alleging the flawed airbags reduced the vehicles’ value, was part of a combined multidistrict proceeding against numerous automakers and Takata. The VW settlement is modeled on the seven previous settlements, the plaintiffs said when seeking preliminary approval of the deal in September.
Class members have the option of seeking reimbursement for reasonable out-of-pocket expenses, including transportation to a dealer for repair, towing, and child care. Alternatively, they may register for a payment of up to $250 from the settlement fund.
The proposed settlement also provides free loaner cars when recall work is being done, an outreach program to let owners know of the risk of not replacing the Takata airbags, and a customer support program.
Moreno, in approving the settlement, rejected objectors’ arguments—including that the outreach program merely duplicated VW’s existing obligations. “The unique benefit of the Settlement’ s Outreach Program is that it picks up where the baseline obligations” of a National Highway Traffic Safety Administration order leave off, and it requires VW “to expand or go beyond its current outreach efforts,” he said.
Nine individuals are listed as opting out of the settlement.
Gelber Schachter & Greenberg PA and Sullivan & Cromwell LLP represented Volkswagen and Audi.
The case is In re Takata Airbag Prods. Liab. Litig., S.D. Fla., No. 1:15-md-02599, docketed 4/4/22.