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Hyundai hit with $14 million verdict in U.S. airbag trial

The logo of Hyundai Motor is seen on the steering wheel of a car at a Hyundai dealership in Seoul April 25, 2013. REUTERS/Kim Hong-Ji
The logo of Hyundai Motor is seen on the steering wheel of a car at a Hyundai dealership in Seoul April 25, 2013. REUTERS/Kim Hong-Ji

By Jessica Dye

NEW YORK (Reuters) - A U.S. jury found South Korea's Hyundai Motor Co <005380.KS> should pay $14 million to a Virginia man who suffered traumatic brain damage in a car accident after the side air bags in his 2008 Hyundai Tiburon failed to deploy.

Jurors in state court in Pulaski County, Virginia, deliberated for more than eight hours before finding on Friday that a defect in the car's air-bag design was responsible for the injuries sustained by Zachary Duncan in the 2010 crash, according to court records and Duncan's attorney.

A spokesman for Hyundai, Jim Trainor, said the company strongly disagrees with the verdict and intends to appeal.

Duncan and his parents sued Hyundai after he sustained serious brain injury when the Hyundai Tiburon he was driving left the road and collided with a tree on the driver's side, according to a copy of the 2010 lawsuit. Although the car was equipped with side air bags, they did not deploy, the complaint said.

Duncan's lawyers said in the lawsuit the side air bags did not deploy because Hyundai had put its side air-bag sensors in the wrong location, under the driver's seat, instead of further out on the car. Hyundai had conducted studies and knew about the potential risks with the sensor location, the lawsuit alleged.

Hyundai had argued that the car's air-bag system met federal safety standards and had been thoroughly tested and found to be safe. The company had said that Duncan rolled his vehicle into a tree, and that a side air bag would not have kept him from being injured.

A first trial against Hyundai ended in a mistrial in 2012 after jurors deadlocked. The second trial began on June 17 and ran for two weeks, according to Duncan's lawyer, Ari Casper.

"This is an important victory for our client and for public safety," Casper said. "Hopefully, this will cause automobile manufacturers to really make sure they're putting safe vehicles on the road."

Casper said the same air-bag sensor design at issue in the Duncan case was also present in Tiburons from model years 2003 until 2008. Hyundai discontinued the Tiburon after 2008.

(Reporting by Jessica Dye; Editing by Tim Dobbyn and Chris Reese)

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