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Fake Toyota airbag part scandal just got worse

Toyota Australia has so far refused to comment on the latest airbag issue

Counterfeit Toyota airbag parts could leave drivers of other cars with a big compensation bill.

Non-Toyota drivers involved in a crash with a car equipped with a counterfeit Toyota airbag are at risk of getting lumped with hefty legal compensation bills if the driver of the other car is injured or killed, a top law firm has warned.

While Australia's peak consumer protection body is yet to act on a tip-off from Toyota six weeks ago about "thousands" of counterfeit airbag parts, law experts predict it will be a "legal minefield" if anyone is killed or injured as a result of the bogus devices not deploying correctly, if at all.

Brisbane compensation law expert Mark O'Connor said if someone is injured because the bogus part failed to deploy an airbag "the remedy would be to pursue a claim for damages against the compulsory third-party insurer of the other vehicle".

It means that even drivers of cars not affected by Toyotas equipped with the bogus parts could get caught with massive bills to be paid for by their insurers.

"It's a legal minefield," said Mr O'Connor. "If I own a car with a bogus airbag and it doesn't go off in a crash and I am seriously injured, then I could bring a claim."

The repairer may well say 'I thought it was genuine, it looked legitimate to me'

But the question is who would foot the bill.

"The repairer may well say 'I thought it was genuine, it looked legitimate to me'," said Mr O'Connor.

"So then do you seek compensation from the distributor of the counterfeit parts, or the overseas manufacturer? It's a real mess."

Mr O'Connor said non-Toyota drivers would also be exposed if "a driver is involved in an accident and it is another driver's fault, and they suffer more serious injuries then would otherwise have been the case because of the non-deployment of the dodgy airbag".

Mr O'Connor said legal action could also be taken against the installer of the counterfeit airbag, but then the battle becomes whether or not the installer (usually a smash repairer) fitted the part knowing it was a fake.

"If it was discovered there was a dodgy airbag in the vehicle then possibly that compulsory third-party insurer may attempt to bring a claim for indemnity against the party responsible for the installation of the dodgy airbag. This could lead to a complex legal fight trying to determine who bears the responsibility and who had the knowledge of the dodgy airbag," says Mr O'Connor.

Earlier this week, News Corp Australia reported Toyota was trying to locate "thousands" of counterfeit airbag parts that can be fitted to most Toyotas sold locally over the past 10 years, almost 2 million vehicles.

Toyota Australia has so far refused to comment on the latest airbag issue however News Corp Australia obtained a confidential Toyota bulletin advising dealers to check the airbag connector when cars come in for routine servicing, to ensure it is not a counterfeit part.

The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission has so far failed to act even though it was warned about the problem six weeks ago.

The responsible Federal Minister Bruce Billson has so far failed to exercise his powers to impose an interim ban on the potentially deadly devices.

The latest safety issue is unrelated to the recent recalls involving Takata airbags, which so far have seen more than 860,000 cars sent back to dealers in Australia, of which 207,000 were Toyotas and 306,000 were Hondas.