Air Bag Fraud Leads To $15 Million Verdict - CBS News 8 - San Diego, CA News Station - KFMB Channel 8

Air Bag Fraud Leads To $15 Million Verdict

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If the air bag in your car goes off, it can cost you up to $2,000 to replace it, which is why one dishonest auto body shop skipped this repair and then got sued for $15 million.

The year was 2003 when 18-year-old Bobby Ellsworth took a ride in his friend's pickup truck and was killed in an accident. Bobby's father Bob Ellsworth says his son would be alive today if the truck's air bags would have gone off. Instead, Bobby didn't have a chance because those air bags were stuffed with paper and rags.

"It's a ticking time bomb, a hidden killer that you really don't know about as a parent," Ellsworth said.

Turns out that truck Bobby was in had been totaled in a previous wreck where the air bags went off just fine, but the auto body shop that bought the truck at salvage and fixed it up cut corners. Instead of spending the money to install new air bags, they just glued them shut empty.

Attorney Julia Haus sued that auto body shop, won a $15 million verdict, and a message for other shops breaking the law.

"We want the mechanics and the dealers who are doing this type of stuff to realize that this is not going to be permitted anymore," she said.

In order to protect yourself, before buying a used car, pay a licensed mechanic to inspect the air bags. It will cost you about $100. Ellsworth says often times when you buy a used car, the dealer purposely won't show you the title that clearly states it's a salvage. That's why he's lobbying for a national database open to the public that would track every vehicle's history.

"Currently only 36 states are participating in this, and unfortunately is not one of them," he said.

Although the Ellsworth family will probably only collect a fraction of the $15 million, Bob says the verdict's true value lies in its message to others.

"I feel it's my duty and responsibility to let the public know what happened to me so that it won't happen to them," he said.

Ellsworth wants to pass along two more tips. He says just because your air bag warning light on your dashboard doesn't come on doesn't mean you're in the clear. An unscrupulous mechanic can clip the wire leading to it. Also, you need to inspect the seams of your air bag. If you see any glue at all, that's a sure sign that your air bag has been tampered with.

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