BENTON – Car parts at the heart of a wrongful death suit filed in federal court have vanished, according to Hyundai Motor Co.
Belleville attorney Tom Keefe serves as local counsel.
On March 23, Hyundai counsel Todd Stanton wrote that seat belt components and air bags were no longer with a Hyundai Accent that rolled over in Colorado.
“All of these components were present in the Hyundai Accent when it was photographed by law enforcement officers and emergency responders shortly after the crash,” he wrote.
Stanton wrote that on March 17, a Colorado trooper confirmed that Colorado State Patrol was not in possession of any components.
For this reason and others, he asked District Judge Phil Gilbert to transfer the suit to federal court in Colorado.
“Colorado has a stronger relationship to the dispute than Illinois because Colorado is where the accident and injuries occurred.”
Keefe sued Hyundai last August on behalf of Janet Schwaninger, administrator of the estate of granddaughter Elizabeth Schaaf.
The suit claims the air bags were inadequate and the seat belts “permitted unreasonable and excessive excursion of occupants in rollover accidents.”
It identifies driver Noah Tingberg as an Illinois resident.
For seven months, Hyundai did not challenge Illinois jurisdiction.
Stanton’s new motion pleads that, “sufficient information is known to conclude that Colorado is the more appropriate and convenient forum for this action.”
He wrote that two eyewitnesses live and work in Colorado, and that Schwaninger provided her own address for Tingberg.
“Mr. Tingberg may also have a Colorado address, as reflected in other documentation collected in the investigation of this case,” Stanton wrote.
“Further, Ms. Schaaf’s mother and stepfather, who it is anticipated likely will be key damages witnesses, reside in Colorado.”
He wrote that law enforcement officers, emergency responders and coroner’s personnel, would prefer a venue closer to home.
“These witnesses’ testimony will be critical in establishing how the crash occurred, what forces acted upon the subject Hyundai Accent and its components, what injuries the occupants sustained, and how those injuries occurred,” Stanton wrote.
He wrote that the chain of custody recently became significant.
“Specifically, the front passenger seat belt webbing and front passenger seat belt latch plate are no longer with the vehicle,” he wrote.
“Further, both the passenger and driver side curtain air bags appear to have been cut out and removed from the vehicle.
“Given the unknown whereabouts of these components, it is believed that additional Colorado based witnesses may have knowledge and information important to this issue.”
He wrote that a state patrol officer accompanied someone to obtain personal belongings from the Accent.
“The signature of the person collecting the property is illegible,” he wrote.
He wrote that multiple towing companies in Colorado transported the vehicle, and that it was kept in at least one storage facility in Colorado.
Stanton practices in Rock Hill, Mo.