However, in more recent times, airbag failure is increasingly tied to the sensors that control them. Sensors have often been cited as the cause of airbags deploying when they’re not supposed to, causing injury to a driver having lightly bumped a wall while parking or simply driving along a highway.
More often than not, injuries tied to airbags and corresponding airbag lawsuits are associated with instances when airbags should have deployed to protect occupants in a collision, but did not.
That appears to be the foundation for the argument put forth by the Duncan family of Radford, Virginia. Following a single-vehicle accident that left 16-year-old Zachary Gage Duncan with head injuries, a Pulaski County jury awarded his family $14 million in damages.
According to The Roanoke Times (6/28/13)), Duncan had been driving in a Hyundai Tiburon with a passenger in February 2010, when his car left the road, went down an embankment and eventually hit a tree. While the passenger was not injured, the driver sustained head injuries when the side airbag in the 2008 car failed to deploy.
The Duncans, in their defective airbags lawsuit, argued that the proper deployment of the side airbag could have prevented their son from hitting his head against the roof rail. The impact left the young driver in a coma for a week after he suffered a traumatic brain injury from the accident.
The original court proceedings ended in a hung jury, and the case was tried a second time. During trial, the jury heard plaintiff arguments that sensors in the 2003 to 2008 Tiburon models were located under the driver’s seat and in the wrong place for proper deployment of the side airbag. Hyundai countered that at the time the car was manufactured (the final year for the Tiburon model before it was discontinued), side airbags were not legislated by the industry but had been included by Hyundai anyway. Side airbags are designed to protect a driver from impacts stemming from the side of the car. The injury to Duncan was found to have cause from the roof rail. It was not clear in the report if the 2008 Hyundai Tiburon was outfitted with curtain airbags.
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That cost, over his lifetime, was projected to be $11 million. The Jury of three women and four men deliberated for 10 hours before finding that Hyundai had breached the implied warranty of merchantability - in lay terms, Hyundai had manufactured a vehicle that was seen in the eyes of the jurors as “unreasonably dangerous.” The jury also found that said breach amounted to the proximate cause of Duncan’s injuries.
The family was awarded $14 million, plus $140,000 for medical expenses in June. Industry watchers expected an appeal.
The case is Zachary Gage Duncan v. Hyundai Motor Co., case number CL10000503-00, in the State of Virginia Circuit Court of Pulaski County.