Fla. jury rejects suit over Kia Sephia design

Wronged recliner
At issue: Design defect, warning claims regarding Sephia seatback
Status: Florida plaintiff files motion for new trial against Kia.

A Florida jury has rejected a design defect suit involving the front passenger seatback of a 1996 Kia Sephia.

The Tallahassee jury also rebuffed Peter Griffin's claim that Kia Motors Corp. and Kia Motors America Inc. had failed to warn passengers properly about the alleged risks of reclining seatbacks.

The plaintiff has filed a motion for a new trial in Leon County Circuit Court.

Griffin owned the Sephia at the time of the July 1996 crash but was asleep in the front passenger seat while a friend drove. When the driver fell asleep, the car drifted onto the median of Interstate 10, near Madison, and rolled over twice, according to Kia's evidence at trial. Kia also offered evidence that Griffin was wearing his seat belt and lying on his left hip with the seatback reclined at 26 degrees.

He was left quadriplegic.

The suit contended that the car was defectively designed because it lacked an interlock device to prevent it from operating with the seatback reclined. Kia countered that none of Griffin's alternative design theories had "real world" applications.

"Part of our defense was that our design was no different than for any other vehicle," said Larry Roth, a Winter Park, Fla., lawyer, who represents Kia. He said testing showed that the Sephia's design was consistent with that of most other vehicles because almost all seatbacks recline and none have an interlock.

Griffin also asserted that Kia should have placed warning labels inside the vehicle although there were warnings in the owner's manual. "He never read that section of the manual," Roth said. In addition, Roth said, "no auto manufacturer anywhere has warning labels about reclining seatbacks."

The driver was uninsured and was not sued, he said.

Griffin's Tallahassee lawyers didn't respond to requests for comment.

You can send e-mail to Eric Freedman at

You can reach Eric Freedman at freedma5@msu.edu

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