Hyundai hit with $18m verdict in US airbag trial

NEW YORK (REUTERS) - A United States (US) jury found South Korea's Hyundai Motor Co should pay US$14 million (S$18 million) to a Virginia man who suffered traumatic brain damage in a car accident after the side air bags in his 2008 Hyundai Tiburon failed to deploy.

Jurors in state court in Pulaski County, Virginia, deliberated for more than eight hours before finding on Friday that a defect in the car's air bag design was responsible for the injuries sustained by Mr Zachary Duncan in the 2010 crash, according to court records and Mr Duncan's attorney.

Representatives for Hyundai did not immediately return requests for comment on Monday.

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 a side air bags, they not deploy, the complaint said.

Mr Duncan's lawyers said in the lawsuit that the side air bags did not deploy because Hyundai had put its side air bag 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.

Hyundai had argued that the car's air bag system met federal safety standards and had been thoroughly tested and found to be safe.

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, Mr 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 air bag 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.

Join ST's Telegram channel and get the latest breaking news delivered to you.