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Steinke v. Hyundai

Wisconsin
Jul 21, 2004

CASE RESULTS DEPEND UPON A VARIETY OF FACTORS UNIQUE TO EACH CASE. CASE RESULTS DO NOT GUARANTEE OR PREDICT A SIMILAR RESULT IN ANY FUTURE CASE.

Hyundai Trial Result Summary

EAU CLAIRE, WI - On July 21, 2004, an Eau Claire County jury returned a verdict in favor of defendant Hyundai Motor Company following the three day trial.

At approximately 1:00 a.m. on October 21, 1999, 22 year-old plaintiff Heather Steinke and her friend Melissa Lee were driving home from a casino in Turtle Lake, Wisconsin in Lee’s 1996 Hyundai Accent.  Lee was driving while plaintiff Steinke sat in the front passenger seat, unbelted, with her right ankle resting over her left knee.  Without warning, Lee’s Hyundai Accent, which was traveling about 62-65 mph at the time, collided with a wheel and axle that had separated from another vehicle in an earlier accident.  During the collision, the Accent’s airbags deployed.  Plaintiff suffered a comminuted fracture of her right femur extending into the knee joint. 

In her lawsuit, plaintiff alleged the Hyundai Accent was defective because the airbags deployed in the collision.  She also alleged Hyundai’s warnings relating to the airbags were inadequate.  She alleged her leg was broken by the force of the airbag deployment.

At trial, plaintiff’s expert contended the airbags should not have deployed in the collision because the change in velocity was less than four mph and thus less than Hyundai’s “should not deploy” threshold.  Hyundai contended the airbags’ deployment was appropriate, based upon the damage the vehicle sustained, the amount of energy involved in the collision, and the rate of deceleration.  Hyundai presented evidence plaintiff would not have sustained any injuries if she had been sitting with both feet on the floor and wearing her seatbelt.  Hyundai also presented evidence the warnings relating to the airbags were adequate and mandated by FMVSS 208.

During closing arguments, plaintiff’s counsel asked the jury to award plaintiff more than $900,000 in damages.  Hyundai argued that plaintiff’s injuries were caused by plaintiff’s failure to buckle up and her position in the vehicle at the time of the collision.  After two hours and forty five minutes of deliberation, the jury returned a verdict in favor of Hyundai. 

Heather Steinke v. Hyundai Motor Company
State of Wisconsin, Circuit Court, Eau Claire County
Case No. 02-CV-705

Appearing as expert witnesses on behalf of plaintiff were: Jeffrey Peterson, Madison, WI (accident reconstruction and airbags); Dr. John P. Drawbert, Eau Claire, WI (future treatment and injury mechanism); Dr. Peter M.C. Ihle, Eau Claire, WI (treatment and injury mechanism); and Ken Ogren, Luck, WI (vocational rehabilitation).  Expert witnesses on behalf of Hyundai were: John E. Hinger of Hinger Engineering, Irvine, CA (accident reconstruction and occupant protection); and Donald F. Huelke, Ph.D., Ann Arbor, MI (biomechanics and injury mechanism).

Hyundai was represented by Jennifer K. Wichelman of Bowman and Brooke LLP, located in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Plaintiff was represented by J. Drew Ryberg of Ryberg & Happe located in Eau Claire, Wisconsin.

Judge Rod W. Smeltzer from Menomonie , Wisconsin presided over the trial.

Trial Team

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