From Crain News Service and wire reports
DETROIT (July 2, 2013) — A jury in Virginia has decided that Hyundai Motor Co. should pay $14 million to a Virginia man who suffered traumatic brain damage in a car accident after the side airbags in his 2008 Hyundai Tiburon coupe failed to deploy.
A Hyundai spokesman said the auto maker plans to appeal.
Jurors in a state court in Pulaski County, Va., deliberated for more than eight hours before finding on June 28 that a defect in the car's airbag design was responsible for the injuries sustained by Zachary Duncan in the 2010 crash, according to court records and Mr. Duncan's attorney.
Mr. Duncan and his parents sued Hyundai after he sustained serious brain injury when the Hyundai Tiburon he was driving left the road and collided with a tree on the driver's side, according to a copy of the 2010 lawsuit. Although the car was equipped with side airbags, they did not deploy, the complaint said.
Mr. Duncan's lawyers said in the lawsuit the side airbags did not deploy because Hyundai had put its side airbag sensors in the wrong location, under the driver's seat, instead of further out on the car. Hyundai had conducted studies and knew about the potential risks with the sensor location, the lawsuit alleged.
The Roanoke Times, a local paper, reported that Mr. Duncan — who was 16 years old at the time of the incident — had passed a friend's vehicle and sped ahead before the crash. Mr. Duncan's friends called 911 but left the scene of the accident before first responders arrived, according to the paper, which cited closing arguments in the trial.
The newspaper also reported that a passenger in Mr. Duncan's car was not injured.
A spokesman for Hyundai, Jim Trainor, said in a statement that the company disagrees with the verdict and is confident that it will be overturned upon appeal.
"While we are sympathetic to this young man and his family, the facts are that (Zachary) Duncan rolled his car into a tree. The roof was crushed by the tree and impacted his head," Mr. Trainor said. "No side airbag in the world would have prevented his injury."
Mr. Trainor also noted that the 2008 Tiburon had surpassed federal safety standards and was awarded four stars in federal side impact crash tests.
A first trial against Hyundai ended in a mistrial in 2012 after jurors deadlocked. The second trial began on June 17 and ran for two weeks, according to Duncan's lawyer, Ari Casper.
"This is an important victory for our client and for public safety," Mr. Casper said. "Hopefully, this will cause automobile manufacturers to really make sure they're putting safe vehicles on the road."
Mr. Casper said the same airbag sensor design at issue in the Duncan case was also present in Tiburons from model years 2003 until 2008. Hyundai discontinued the Tiburon after 2008.
Reporter Adam Rubenfire and Reuters contributed to this report, which appeared on the website of Automotive News, a Detroit-based sister publication of Tire Business.