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Thursday, August 22, 2019

Federal court rejects Hyundai's motion to dismiss product liability case

By David Hutton | Aug 11, 2017

BENTON — The U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Illinois has rejected a motion to dismiss a product liability lawsuit against a Hyundai Motor Co. subsidiary, according to a decision filed on June 29.

Hyundai Mobis Co. filed a motion to dismiss the lawsuit, which claims its seat belts and door latches caused a teenager’s death. Hyundai Mobis forms the parts and service arm for the South Korean automaker.

Hyundai Mobis contended in the motion for dismissal that Janet Schwaninger’s lawsuit, filed as the administrator of the estate of her granddaughter, Elizabeth Schaaf, was beyond the statute of limitations and that she failed to state a claim against the company.

Schaaf died as the result of injuries she suffered in a rollover traffic accident on Aug. 6, 2013 in Colorado. At the time of the accident, she was a passenger in the front seat of a 2007 Hyundai Accent.

According to the original complaint, Schwaninger alleges that Hyundai Mobis and related Hyundai subsidiaries “designed, tested, engineered, approved, manufactured, assembled, supplied, marketed, distributed, and sold front passenger side airbag systems and their components for incorporation into Hyundai Accent vehicles.”

The complaint also alleges that the airbags were defective and contributed to Schaaf’s injuries and death.

In its motion for dismissal, Hyundai Mobis maintained that Schwaninger filed the complaint too late because she did not name Hyundai Mobis as a defendant until she filed an amended complaint on Aug. 10, 2015, which was after the expiration of the two-year statute of limitations period.

In response, Schwaninger contends her late complaint relates back to the original complaint. Schwaninger filed the first amended complaint on Aug. 10, 2015, four days after the expiration of the two-year statute of limitations.

That complaint makes the same allegations as the initial complaint against the same Hyundai defendants and adds Hyundai Mobis and its subsidiaries as the “airbag defendants,” along with the previously named key defendants.

In the order, Senior District Judge J. Phil Gilbert noted that while Schwaninger’s first amended complaint lacked some details, it had enough information to inform Hyundai Mobis of what her claims are and the grounds on which they rest. This includes the allegation that the Accent had an airbag designed and manufactured by Hyundai Mobis that did not protect her granddaughter in the car like it should have and, in fact, operated on the door latch system to increase the danger to which she was exposed.  

“In the court’s experience, product liability pleadings in automobile accident cases are often pled without great detail; the plaintiff can identify a part (or more than one part) of the vehicle that failed to perform as she expected and that she believes caused her injury, but at the time of the pleading she does not know the details of the failure or its exact cause,” Gilbert wrote.

Gilbert also wrote that additional details likely will be developed during during discovery once witnesses are deposed, documents and physical items are examined by experts and a causal theory is clarified.

“At this point in the case, the level of factual detail Schwaninger has provided in the first amended complaint is typical and is clearly sufficient to allow Hyundai Mobis to defend the claims against it,” he wrote.

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Organizations in this Story

Hyundai MOBIS Parts America Hyundai Motor America U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Illinois