Hyundai, Kia are still under legal pressure after settling lawsuits

The insurance companies suing the manufacturers include Liberty Mutual, Nationwide and American Family. They estimate that Hyundai and Kia’s decision not to include immobilizers has already cost the insurers $190 million. The group estimates that the entire US insurance industry could wind up paying out as much as $600 million in claims.

The municipalities, including San Diego, Calif.; St. Louis, Mo.; and Rochester, NY, say the Hyundai and Kia thefts and related crimes have consumed law enforcement and other emergency resources and have impeded public safety.

California Attorney General Rob Bonta, along with 17 other state attorneys general, are putting pressure on NHTSA to issue a recall of the affected vehicles.

Sean Kane, founder and president of Safety Research and Strategies, a think tank and advocate for motor vehicle safety, filed a petition to NHTSA last month to compel the safety agency to reexamine the rule “in the wake of a continuing surge of Hyundai/Kia automobile theft.”

The letter points out that the whole reason for putting FMVSS 114 in place was repeated affirmations by the agency itself that “auto theft is a threat to safety.”

Kane told Automotive News that the rule’s intent is “directly tied” to what is happening with the Hyundai and Kia vehicle theft craze but that the lack of specificity gives NHTSA an “upper hand.”

“The fact that they gave [Hyundai and Kia] a pass on the recall is really troubling,” Kane said. “How is this not an unreasonable risk of motor vehicle safety, given the scope and magnitude of it?”

Kane said NHTSA is required by law to respond within 120 days.

Fatalities and injuries

NHTSA has recognized that the Hyundai and Kia thefts have resulted in 14 crashes and eight deaths, but it’s likely there are many more.

According to the Safety Research & Strategies petition, “In March and April alone, the news media reported another 24 such crashes, resulting in four more deaths (including a six-month-old boy), 28 injuries, nine of which were said to be serious injuries, and one house fire, in addition to structural damage and other vehicle damage, including two police cruisers, caused by drivers of stolen Hyundai/Kia vehicles.”

Two of the fatalities were teenage boys in Buffalo, NY, who died after joyriding in a stolen Kia.

MLG Attorneys at Law of Costa Mesa, Calif., the firm representing clients in the multidistrict class action that just reached the proposed settlement, is representing the boys’ mothers in a wrongful death lawsuit against the automaker that also claims immobilizers could have helped deter them from stealing the cars.

MLG also is representing a 25-year-old woman in Portland, Ore., Morgan Kornfeind, who was struck by a man in a stolen Kia driving the wrong way on an interstate while he was fleeing the police.

These are just two in a handful of wrongful death and injury lawsuits the automakers will have to answer to, according to Randy Shrewsberry, MLG’s chief strategy officer, noting that the firm is just handling the two.

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