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Hyundai to appeal $248 million verdict over fatal Montana crash

UPDATED: 5/14/14 2:35 pm ET -- adds details

(Reuters) -- Hyundai Motor America said on Wednesday it would appeal a $248 million verdict awarded to the families of two boys killed in 2011 in a crash involving a Hyundai car they claimed was defective.

Jurors in Lake County, Mont., returned the verdict Tuesday following a two-week trial, according to Mark Williams, the lawyer who represented the family of Tanner Olson.

Olson, 14, and his 19-year-old cousin, Trevor Olson, were killed when the 2005 Hyundai Tiburon they were riding in was involved in a crash, Williams said. The car was being driven by Trevor Olson.

Jurors deliberated for 12 hours before awarding the boys' families a total of approximately $8 million in damages for their losses, and finding that Hyundai Motor Co. and its U.S. subsidiary, Hyundai Motor America, had acted with "actual malice," according to the verdict sheet.

The jurors then ordered Hyundai and its U.S. unit to pay an additional $240 million in punitive damages, Williams said.

The families alleged that a component in the Hyundai known as the steering knuckle was defective, and blamed it for causing the accident that killed both boys. The part spontaneously cracked and caused the Hyundai to swerve into another car, they said.

Hyundai maintained that it was not to blame, and said that exploding fireworks in the car had caused the driver to lose control, according to a statement from the company.

The crash occurred on July 2, 2011, on Highway 93 north of Arlee, Mont.

A woman in the other car involved in the crash died as well. That was not part of the lawsuit, Williams said.

A Hyundai spokesman, Chris Hosford, said the company planned to immediately appeal the verdict. While the accident was tragic, the company believes the verdict is "outrageous, and should be overturned as Hyundai is not at fault," he said in a statement.

Williams said the plaintiffs were pleased with verdict. "We're grateful for the jurors' hard work," he said.

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