PULASKI, Va.—A circuit court jury ruled last week that Hyundai Motor America must pay $14 million to a Radford, Va., man who sustained severe traumatic brain injuries when the airbag in 2008 Hyundai Tiburon failed to deploy in crash. The verdict may be a record for a defective-product lawsuit in Southwest Virginia.
Zachary “Gage” Duncan was 16 when the Hyundai he was driving hit a tree in 2010. Injuries to his head left him in a coma for a week. Now 20, Mr. Duncan has permanent brain injuries that require him to receive special care for the rest of his life.
The verdict came after a highly technical two-week trial and more than 10 hours of jury deliberations. During the trial, jurors listened to testimony from automotive engineers and reviewed dozens of crash test videos to understand the plaintiffs’ claim that the Hyundai Tiburon’s side air bag sensors were in the wrong location, and thus defectively designed. As a result, the sensors did not detect the impact and failed to deploy.
Lawyers for Mr. Duncan and his family successfully demonstrated that had the sensors been properly placed, they would have deployed and prevented Mr. Duncan’s head from hitting the roof rail of his car when it crashed into the tree.
This was the second time the case was tried. The first jury failed to reach a verdict in September after 13 hours of deliberating because one juror held out.
According to the Roanoke Times, Mr. Duncan’s family racked up more than $139,000 in medical expenses, which includes the treatment he received at Carilion Roanoke Memorial Hospital while in a coma and rehabilitation at the Kluge Children’s Rehabilitation Center at the University of Virginia. Jurors awarded the Duncan family $140,000 for those expenses.
Due to his severe permanent brain injury, Mr. Duncan will likely have to live in long-term care facility where he will receive round-the-clock supervision. Those costs, reduced to preset value, were estimated to cost $11 million.
Hyundai said it plans to appeal the verdict.