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Kia hit with $40M verdict in faulty seatbelt death

Published June 28, 2011


A jury in an Alabama state court has returned a $40 million wrongful
death verdict against Kia Motors Corp. in a fatal crash that involved a
faulty seatbelt buckle.

The victim, Tiffany Stabler, had just turned 16 on May 6, 2004, when
her father purchased a used 1999 Kia Sephia as a gift for his daughter’s
birthday. Two months later, she died in a crash after being ejected
from her vehicle due to a defective seatbelt buckle, her family's lawsuit claimed.

Before giving the car to her, the teen's dad had the vehicle serviced
at the local Kia dealership, had all recall work done, changed the
tires and did all maintenance needed to make the vehicle safe, the lawsuit said.

He had no idea that the car had defective seatbelts in it.

The seatbelt buckle in model years 1995 through 2000 Kia Sephia and
Sportage vehicles had a safety defect which caused them to be
susceptible to “false latching” — so the passenger thinks they are
properly belted when in reality they are not. In an accident, the false
latch condition can allow the buckle to unlatch and substantially
increase the risk of serious injury or death, the suit said.

In late December 2002, Kia issued a safety defect recall, but only
for model years 1995 through 1998 vehicles. The model year 1999 and 2000
cars were not recalled, even though they had the same seatbelt buckle
with the same safety defect as the cars that were recalled. The 2002
recall resulted in 189,000 cars being recalled, but 251,000 cars with
the same defective buckle were not recalled and the owners of those cars
were not notified of the safety defect.

Although Kia knew there was a safety defect, they had not issued a
recall of the seatbelt buckles in this model year car, attorneys for the
victim’s family claimed in the case.

The original defective seatbelt buckles remained in Stabler’s
vehicle, even after it was inspected and serviced by the Kia dealership,
the lawsuit claimed. On July 4, 2004, the teen was driving the Kia and
wearing her seatbelt when she lost control of her car and crashed.
The girl was ejected from the vehicle and died from her injuries.

“Tiffany’s father would never have given his little girl that car if
he thought it was unsafe,” said Skip Finkbohner, one of the family’s
attorneys. “While the jury’s verdict does not change the fact that
Tiffany’s death could have been and should have been prevented,
hopefully it will result in a change in business practices so that when a
product manufacturer knows that its product has a safety defect, it
will make full and complete disclosure and promptly recall all of the
defective products and not just some of them.”

From the Star’s wire services

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