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Young Mom Killed by Counterfeit Car Airbag

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Destiny Byassee, a 22-year-old mother from Florida, lost her life last year when the counterfeit airbag in her car detonated during a collision, according to a lawsuit filed by her family. The airbag in her 2020 Chevy Malibu exploded during a head-on crash in Punta Gorda, Florida, on June 11, 2023. The lawsuit likens the explosion to a grenade, sending metal and plastic debris throughout the car.

Byassee had purchased the used Chevy Malibu from DriveTime, a national used car company. Unbeknownst to Byassee, the car had suffered severe damage in a crash in September 2022, which should have classified it as a total loss. Instead, the vehicle was sold at an auction and repaired at Jumbo Automotive in Hollywood, Florida. According to the lawsuit, the shop owner installed counterfeit and non-compliant airbag components from a Chinese company and a repaired seatbelt pretensioner that was not properly functioning.

“Several fragments from the explosion hit Ms. Byassee in the face, head, and neck, leading to her death,” the lawsuit claims. John Morgan, the attorney for Byassee’s family, highlighted the severity of the issue, stating, “Ms. Byassee was unaware that the vehicle had been improperly and illegally repaired.”

Byassee’s grandmother, Cathy King, recently filed the lawsuit on behalf of Byassee’s two young children, ages six and four, her husband, and her mother. The family alleges that the car’s history and the improper repairs were not disclosed to Byassee when she purchased it. “She believed she was buying a safe and reliable vehicle,” Morgan added in a news release. “Instead, several automotive companies manipulated the system by repairing a vehicle that should have been totaled, all in pursuit of profit.

The lawsuit highlights the series of events leading to Byassee’s death. The Chevy Malibu, previously owned by Enterprise Rent-A-Car, was sold to DriveTime through Manheim Auctions, Inc., known as the world’s largest wholesale automobile auction company. Jumbo Automotive’s installation of the counterfeit airbag and faulty seatbelt pretensioner ultimately led to the deadly outcome during the June 2023 collision.

During the collision, the counterfeit airbag and the faulty seatbelt pretensioner were signaled to deploy. However, the seatbelt pretensioner failed to function correctly, and the airbag detonated, causing the shrapnel injuries that killed Byassee. The lawsuit includes photographs depicting the aftermath, including a “shredded and blood-soaked front driver-side airbag.”

The lawsuit demands a jury trial on 14 charges against the defendants, including strict liability, negligence, and deceptive trade practices. The named defendants are Enterprise Rent-A-Car, Manheim Auctions, DriveTime, and Jumbo Automotive. As of publication, none of the companies had responded to requests for comment.

Byassee’s family continues to seek justice and accountability for her death. “Because of that, Ms. Byassee lost her life, and her children will grow up without their mother,” Morgan stated. The family hopes that the lawsuit will prevent similar incidents and bring awareness to the dangers of counterfeit automotive parts.

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