LOS ANGELES - In its first attempt at defending itself in a product liability case in the U.S. market, Kia Motors America Inc. has won a lawsuit that alleged that the Sephia's seat-back mechanism was defective.
Kia was sued by Robert Gutierrez, a Phoenix resident who suffered permanent brain injuries stemming from a collision between his 1995 Kia Sephia and another vehicle.
Gutierrez, 35, was pulling out of a business driveway in Phoenix when his car was struck broadside by a 1969 Chevrolet Impala drag racing another vehicle at about 65 mph.
The impact caused Gutierrez's Sephia to spin 180 degrees and made the left rear door strike a light pole. Because Gutierrez's seat back had collapsed, his head struck the light pole as well.
The impact fractured Gutierrez's skull, left eye socket, C-6 vertebra and right ribs. As a result of his injuries, Gutierrez is deaf in his left ear and has double vision, decreased short-term memory and diminished cognitive functioning.
Gutierrez's attorneys alleged that the Sephia's seat-back design was defective by allowing the seat to collapse during the accident. Had the seat back been rigid, Gutierrez would not have sustained any injury, plaintiff attorneys argued.
Gutierrez's attorneys did not name the Impala driver as a defendant, claiming that the Sephia seat design was the cause of Gutierrez's injuries.
The plaintiff attorneys had pitched a pre-trial settlement offer of $4 million to Kia, which was refused, then asked for a $6.1 million award from the jury.
Kia's attorneys argued that the Sephia seat worked as designed by deforming slightly to allow the seat to absorb some of the crash energy.
Had the seat been rigid, Kia alleged, Gutierrez would have sustained a severe neck fracture, resulting in quadriplegia. Kia also deflected blame for the injury onto the drag racers.
After a three-week trial, the jury deliberated for a half day before returning with a 9-3 verdict that the Sephia was neither defective nor unreasonably dangerous.