Network Firm News

Wednesday, February 04, 2015

Lightfoot partner Harlan Prater was lead counsel defending Hyundai Motor Company in a personal injury case in Pulaski County, Virginia. Assisting Harlan were local counsel Andrew Cooke (Flaherty Sensabaugh Bonasso) and Tim Kirtner (Gilmer, Sadler, Ingram, Sutherland & Hutton). Plaintiffs, on behalf of their 16-year-old son, alleged that their son's 2008 Hyundai Tiburon's side air bag system was defectively designed after it did not deploy during a wreck. Their son lost control of his car around 11:00 p.m. on a dark cold Saturday night while traveling on a winding, rural Virginia road. His car slid sideways down a steep embankment and then struck a tree on the driver’s side at roughly a 30° roll angle. Unfortunately, the son suffered significant brain injury.

The case tried for three weeks in August 2012 but ended in a hung jury. The case was then retried for two weeks in June 2013 on a breach of implied warranty of merchantability theory. The jury deliberated for two days and returned a verdict for the plaintiff. Hyundai filed post-trial motions to set aside the verdict and for a new trial, submitting affidavits from three jurors who testified that they did not understand the definition of the implied warranty of merchantability and did not find that the vehicle was unreasonably dangerous or not merchantable. The trial court denied Hyundai’s motions, and Hyundai appealed.

On appeal, the Virginia Supreme Court reversed the jury verdict. The Court found that the plaintiffs’ airbag expert’s testimony did not have an adequate foundation. And, without that testimony, the Court concluded that the plaintiffs, as a matter of law, did not meet their burden of proving that the automobile was defective and unreasonably dangerous. Accordingly, the Virginia Supreme Court rendered final judgment for Hyundai.

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