Thomas Vanderford and David Schaefer Win Product Liability Case

April 28, 2022 10:41 AM
Thomas Vanderford and David Schaefer

Thomas Vanderford, Associate General Counsel and Executive Director of Litigation at Hyundai Motor America, and David Schaefer, a partner at Dinsmore & Shohl LLP, won a product liability case for Hyundai Motor America and Hyundai Motor Company, Ltd. 

Hyundai Motor America and Hyundai Motor Company, Ltd. obtained a unanimous jury verdict in their favor on March 24, 2022 after a nine-day product liability trial in state court in Prestonsburg, Kentucky. It took the jury only 75 minutes of deliberations to reject Plaintiffs’ claimed damages of $17,882,484.

The case, styled Daniel Bauer, et al v Hyundai, involved a tragic set of facts.  Five members of the Bauer family were traveling to grandmother’s house for Christmas on December, 24, 2015. Their vehicle, a 2013 Hyundai Tucson, was struck by an oncoming Chevrolet Cruze that crossed over into the Tucson’s lane of travel on KY 114 in Floyd County, Kentucky. The vehicles collided head-on, right-front to right-front, at combined closing speeds of nearly 120 mph. Three occupants of the Tucson were killed, and one occupant sustained serious injuries. A post-collision fire developed in the engine compartment, which ultimately spread to the passenger compartment and engulfed the entire vehicle. The bodies of two of the vehicle occupants, including a four year-old girl, were recovered after the fire was extinguished. The lead plaintiff lost his wife, a daughter, and a granddaughter.

Plaintiffs claimed that the injuries sustained by the occupants of the Tucson were caused or enhanced by manufacturing defects in the Tucson’s driver side front bumper welds. Plaintiffs’ expert noted that the crash forces to the right front of the vehicle caused the front bumper welds to separate from the frame rail connector on the driver side. The expert opined that the separation of the welds caused excessive deformation to the passenger side of the Tucson, compromised the vehicle’s structural integrity, and increased the severity of the crash as experienced by the occupants. Hahn claimed that the welds were shorter than permitted by Hyundai specifications and were of poor quality.

Hyundai defended the case by demonstrating that the welds were fully compliant with design requirements and separated only because they experienced massive crash forces. Even if the welds were “too short” by fractions of an inch, as claimed by Hahn, the welds still would have separated and the crash forces experienced by the occupants would have been unchanged. This was an exceptionally severe crash, with a delta V (change in velocity) calculated by defense experts to be in the mid-50s. Hyundai’s experts conducted a vehicle-to-vehicle crash test to demonstrate the massive forces in this crash. The injuries and fatalities in the Tucson were caused solely by the actions of the other driver, who had elevated levels of drugs, including opioids, in his bloodstream. Hyundai’s experts also demonstrated that an adult female and the four-year-old female in the rear seat were unrestrained. The unrestrained adult in the left rear seat loaded the back of the driver’s seat and contributed to the driver’s fatal injuries. The only rear seat occupant who was properly restrained, a six year-old boy restrained in a booster seat, sustained virtually no injuries.

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