$8M Award against Hyundai Reinstated


In a 7-2 ruling, the Washington State Supreme Court reinstated an $8 million judgment against Hyundai Motor Co. for a 1997 accident that left a man paralyzed after the front seat collapsed backwards.

The justices said Hyundai withheld documentation from the injured man’s lawyers about other accidents in which the front seat collapsed backward during accidents. They called the withholding a “deliberate and willful discovery abuse.” The court also ordered Hyundai to pay the victim’s attorney’s fees and expenses.

The accident occurred when the driver of a rented 1996 Hyundai Accent swerved to avoid an oncoming truck and hit two trees. The victim was riding in the front passenger seat and it is thought the force of the airbag release broke the seat’s reclining mechanism. He was thrown out the back of the hatchback and paralyzed. A woman sitting behind him had her leg broken when the broken seat came down on her.

When the victim originally sued Hyundai, he asked for the company to turn over documentation of other seat back malfunctions. Hyundai claimed no evidence existed until 2005 when they were ordered by the court to turn over documents. It was then revealed that there were 50 other complaints about seat back failures. Prior to this, the victim was awarded $8 million in a 2002 Clark County Superior Court ruling.

This was overturned in 2004 after an appellate panel found that the judge should have told jurors to disregard testimony from one of the witnesses. The judge rebuked Hyundai two years later when the case was about to go back to trial for not divulging similar cases. A default judgment was awarded against Hyundai, but overruled in 2007. However, the high court disagreed with the appellate court and that the judgment against Hyundai was properly imposed.