Product Liability

Alabama family receives $40 million in defective seatbelt case

A Mobile County, Alabama, jury has awarded $40 million to the family of a teenage girl who was killed when the seatbelts in her vehicle failed to restrain her in a 2004 car crash. The wrongful-death lawsuit was filed against Kia, Kia Motors America, and Korean seatbelt manufacturer Celtrion for failing to recall vehicles that they knew had a very dangerous safety defect.

On July 4, 2004, the victim was driving the 1999 Kia Sephia that her father had given to her for her 16th birthday just weeks before the crash. Before he gave the vehicle to his daughter, the father took it to a Kia dealership to get it in top shape. All of the maintenance and recall work was completed. He believed he was giving his daughter a safe vehicle.

Sadly, when the victim lost control of the car, struck a road sign, and flipped, the seatbelt she was wearing failed to protect her. She was ejected from the car and later died of her injuries.

In 2002, Kia recalled its 1995-1998 Sephias and Sportages over a seatbelt defect known as “false latching,” which gives the user the impression that the buckle is securely locked in position when it’s actually open and loose. However, for whatever reasons, Kia did not include 1999-2000 Sephias in the recall, even though they used the same belt buckles as the recalled 1995-1998 vehicles.

“Kia should have recalled all of the vehicles, not just some of them, particularly because the defect was in a safety device,” the plaintiff’s attorney told the Mobile Press-Register. “It’s not like it was a cigarette lighter or a radio. This is the single most important safety device in the car.”

Witnesses testified that the girl had been wearing her seat belt, but it took five years of trial and two visits to the Alabama Supreme Court before the lower-court jury decided in favor of the plaintiffs. Kia says it will petition the court to throw the jury’s verdict out.