Hyundai Ordered To Pay $14 Million For Airbag Flaw: Are You At Risk?

July 2, 2013

For the second time in a year, South Korean automaker Hyundai has been accused of using flawed airbag systems.

Last fall, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration opened an investigation into the 2011-2013 Elantra after a driver suffered severe lacerations when a dodgy side airbag deployed. And yesterday, a jury awarded a Virginia man $14 million after determining that the side airbag system in his 2008 Hyundai Tiburon was defective. 

According to a press release issued by the man's law firm, Stein Mitchell Muse & Cipollone, the side airbag in Zachary Duncan's Tiburon failed to deploy during a collision. As a result, Duncan suffered traumatic brain injuries, which require specialized lifetime care.

But it's not just a matter of the airbag in this particular Tiburon not deploying. Duncan's lawyers proved that the airbag system itself was improperly designed and that the airbag sensor was placed in an improper location. That design -- which positioned the sensor below the driver's seat, rather than farther forward in the vehicle -- was used on Tiburons from the 2003 to 2008 model-years.

Auto News reports that Hyundai plans to appeal yesterday's ruling, pointing out that the Tiburon received high ratings in side crash tests. Hyundai also says that Duncan's injuries were the result of his Tiburon rolling into a tree, which caused the roof to hit the driver's head. It would have been difficult if not impossible for any side airbag to be effective in such a situation.

Interestingly, Hyundai's statement didn't refute the claim that its sensor placement was flawed or that the airbag failed to deploy.

The NHTSA website lists several complaints from other Tiburon owners who say that their airbags failed to deploy during collisions. At the moment, the agency doesn't appear to be investigating the matter, but we'll let you know if that changes. 

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