The Washington State Supreme Court has recently ordered Orange County-based Hyundai Motor Co. to pay $8 million in an auto product liability case involving a man who was rendered paraplegic in a car accident. The victim, Jesse Magana, sued the auto maker in 2000 in connection with a 1997 car accident when the Hyundai Accent in which he was a passenger, went off a roadway and hit a tree. Magana was ejected from the rear window and he claimed that his injuries were caused partly by seatback defects. The Hyundai Accent’s seatback collapsed during the crash, the lawsuit alleged.

Ruling Reversed in Favor of Injured Victim

The Supreme Court reversed an appellate court ruling and reinstated the trial court’s verdict against Hyundai. The high court said the Korean auto maker attempted to undermine the discovery of evidence in the 9-year-old case. One of the judges in fact wrote that trial courts “need not tolerate deliberate and willful discovery abuse.” Justice Richard Sanders wrote that the high court’s judgment while compensating the catastrophically injured victim, will also serve as a punishment to Hyundai and deter other corporations from acting in such an underhanded way.

The trial court three years ago found that Hyundai officials lied to Magana when he requested internal documents and police reports related to previous accidents. Hyundai did not tell Magana that there were several claims alleging seatback failure. Not only that, they told him that there were no claims involving seatback defects in 1995-1999 Hyundai Accent models. The appellate court ruled in favor of Hyundai saying that although Magana’s preparation for the trial was hampered, he could have re-tried the case and that “lesser sanctions would have sufficed.”

Justice Has Been Served

The Washington State Supreme Court, in my opinion, made the right decision in this case. Hyundai lied to a catastrophically injured victim in hopes of winning this auto product defect case – and they almost got away with it. As an auto products liability lawyer who has been dealing with large auto makers for years, Hyundai’s behavior hardly surprises me.

Our catastrophic injury lawyers have obtained, in the past, internal memos from various auto makers, which showed that they knew about various auto product defects in their vehicles that could seriously injure consumers, but did nothing to correct them. Hyundai apparently is no exception. In this case, their car’s defective seatback collapsed during a car crash causing catastrophic injuries. Hyundai officials not only denied that such a defect existed, but lied about reports and complaints they had received about the same problem. I’m pleased that our civil justice system overruled corporate greed in this case. This victim, after nine long years, received the justice and compensation he rightfully deserved.