Hyundai Wins Reversal of $14 Million Defective Airbag Verdict

By: Joseph Smith

The Virginia Supreme Court has reversed a $14 million jury verdict against Hyundai Motor Company, holding that an expert should not have been allowed to testify that the placement of an airbag sensor made the company Tiburon model unreasonably dangerous.

The case arose after an accident in which a teenager suffered serious brain injuries when the 2008 Hyundai Tiburon he was driving collided with a tree after he lost control of the vehicle struck two snow banks and a bale of hay. The vehicle collided with the tree driver's side first, but the side airbag did not deploy.Defective Airbags

The teen's parents filed suit against Hyundai alleging that company decision to place the side airbag sensor beneath the driver's seat, instead of on the pillar of the vehicle prevented it from functioning. The case was tried twice, first in 2012 resulting in a jury unable to reach a verdict, and again in 2013, in which the jury awarded the teen over $14 million. The plaintiff's mechanical engineering expert testified that car was defectively designed based on the location of the side airbag. His opinion was based on the results of a location study Hyundai performed in 1999 and his own calculations to determine if the airbag would have deployed if the sensor had been placed in the specific location of the B-pillar that Hyundai had tested in 1999.

On appeal the Court reversed the trial court's decision to allow the expert testimony and sided with Hyundai's argument that the expert's testimony lacked sufficient foundation. The Court held that the expert's opinion was based on his assumption that the side airbag would have deployed if the sensor was at his proposed location without performing any analysis or calculations to support the assumption and disregarding the factors he acknowledged as bearing upon the sensor location determination. A dissenting justice, while still reversing the trial court's decision on other grounds, argued that the majority improperly focused on the expert's preferred location of the side airbag sensor, even though he did not base his conclusions on the preferred location. He argued that by doing so, the majority failed to view the expert's testimony in the light most favorable to the party that prevailed at the trial court.

The Virginia Supreme Court's decision is an unfortunate one for the teenager and his family. It is also an important reminder of the significant role expert testimony plays in any products liability case. The attorneys at Chaikin, Sherman, Cammarata & Siegel, P.C., understand the vital function experts perform in these types of cases and have countless years of experience working to ensure that the best possible expert is used in each case and properly prepared to testify. If you or someone you love has been injured as a result of a defective product, do not hesitate to call for a free consultation.