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Hyundai Wins Reversal of $14 Million Verdict

January 14, 2015

Lightfoot partner Harlan Prater was lead counsel in defending Hyundai Motor America and Hyundai Motor Company in a personal injury case in Pulaski County, Virginia. Assisting Harlan were local attorneys Andrew Cooke (Flaherty Sensabaugh Bonasso) and Tim Kirtner (Gilmer, Sadler, Ingram, Sutherland & Hutton). Plaintiffs Vanessa and Keith Duncan, on behalf of their 16-year-old son, alleged that his 2008 Hyundai Tiburon's side air bag system was defectively designed because it did not deploy during his wreck. Duncan lost control of his car around 11:00 p.m. on a dark and cold Saturday night while traveling on a winding, rural Virginia road. His car slid sideways down a steep embankment and then struck a tree on the driver’s side at roughly a 30° roll angle. Duncan suffered a significant brain injury.

The case tried for three weeks in August 2012 and ended in a hung jury. The case retried for two weeks in June 2013 on a breach of implied warranty of merchantability theory. The jury deliberated for two days and returned a verdict for the plaintiff. Hyundai filed post-trial motions to set aside the verdict and for a new trial, submitting affidavits from three jurors which stated that they did not understand the definition of the implied warranty of merchantability and did not find that the vehicle was unreasonably dangerous or not merchantable. The trial court denied Hyundai’s motions, and Hyundai appealed.

On appeal, the Virginia Supreme Court reversed the jury verdict. The Court found that the plaintiffs’ airbag expert’s testimony did not have an adequate foundation. Without that testimony, the Court concluded that the plaintiffs, as a matter of law, did not meet their burden of proving that the Tiburon was defective and unreasonably dangerous. Accordingly, the Virginia Supreme Court rendered final judgment for Hyundai. To read the opinion, click here.

Lightfoot Partner Harlan Prater was quoted in Law 360's coverage of the verdict. To read the Law 360 article, click here.

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