Don't worry about the airbag recall. It will be taken care of - you'll just need to take it to a dealer.
I'd avoid the Focus unless you get a manual for the rasons you stated. The C-Max doesn't have the same issue and is in budget - avoid the Energi model as the earily ones had issues..
I'd also avoid the Chevy Cruise as well. (http://dashboard-light.com/vehicles/Chevrolet_Cruze.html)
I'd suggest a gen 3 Prius - bullet proof reliabiltiy and 50 mpg. A 2010 can be had for < $6500.
Also look at the Chevy Volt - they have shown to be reliable and can be had for well under $12000. (http://dashboard-light.com/vehicles/Chevrolet_Volt.html). Look for a 2013 or newer they had a slightly larger battery and the hold function. I had a 2013 (leased) and now have a 2105. The biggest complaint is rear leg room. Obviously ths would only work if he had the ability to plug it in nightly.
With all hybrids they have a powertrain warranty of 8 years / 100,000 miles so look for one with a good amount of mileage before the warrenty expires.