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Hyundai calls $38.1 million verdict 'an outrageous judgement,' plans to file appeal
ACCIDENT lawsuit

Hyundai calls $38.1 million verdict 'an outrageous judgement,' plans to file appeal

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Vanderventer crash

This photo shows the 2013 Hyundai Elantra that Edward Vanderventer was driving when he was rear-ended in Caledonia on July 31, 2015. Vanderventer last week was granted a $38.1 million award against Hyundai after his lawyers argued that his debilitating injuries sustained in the crash were due to a defective seat. Hyundai Motor America officials say that they plan to appeal the verdict.

RACINE — Hyundai Motor America officials say they plan to appeal a $38.1 million verdict awarded this week to a Racine man who was paralyzed in a crash and claimed that his injuries were caused by his 2013 Hyundai Elantra’s seat.

“Hyundai Motor America is extremely disappointed in the jury verdict, an outrageous judgment which we believe was not supported by the facts,” Michael Stewart, a senior group manager for Hyundai, said in an email to The Journal Times.

A jury granted 67-year-old Edward Vandervetter the award after deliberating over a suit filed after a 2015 crash that occurred on Highway 38, south of Six Mile Road near Christie Circle in Caledonia. Vanderventer was waiting to turn left when he was rear-ended by another vehicle driven by a 17-year-old girl.

In a civil suit filed in April 2016 against Hyundai and the driver, Vanderventer’s attorney — Tim Trecek of Habush, Habush and Rottier’s Milwaukee office — argued that Vanderventer’s injuries were exacerbated by his vehicle’s seat, claiming that a post from the seat severed his spine.

“Our theory is that she (the driver) caused the accident, but didn’t cause his injuries,” Trecek said. “We allege that his injuries were caused by a defect of design in the 2013 Hyundrai Elantra seat frame. Had the seat been designed correctly, they would have exchanged information and walked away and that would have been it.”

Hyundai does not believe that is the case. “The vehicle driven by the plaintiff, a 2013 Hyundai Elantra, was well-designed, thoroughly tested and meets all federal motor vehicle safety standards. Hyundai presented evidence at trial that clearly showed the Elantra seat and head restraint performed as designed in providing occupant safety,” Stewart said. “Thousands of crash tests performed with this model also demonstrated that the plaintiff’s theory on what caused the injuries is an impossibility.”

A jury sided with Vanderventer, believing that Hyundai was 84% responsible for the crash, and therefore responsible for 84% of the $38.1 million settlement — a total of approximately $32 million.

“He (the plantiff) made a claim never before made in the world — that during the collision, his head hit the headrest, and that the lower poles of the headrest had moved forward and caused his spinal fracture, despite the fact that after the accident, they had barely moved and that his spine is five inches forward and inches inward from where the prongs would have been,” Stewart said. “There was virtually no physical evidence to support this claim — no bruising on his skin and no deformation of the headrest prongs.”

Hyundai said they plan to appeal the verdict and are “confident” that it will be reversed.

DISH and trial issues

Hyundai claims that Vanderventer’s spinal cord injury, which rendered him a wheelchair-bound paraplegic, were caused by a serious spinal condition, diffuse idiopathic skeletal hyperostosis (DISH), which they say had caused 21 of the 24 vertebrae of his back to be fused together, in effect cementing his spine and making it unable to flex.

“During the high forces of the crash, his spine could not move or straighten, so it cracked,” Stewart said. “The exact same injury would have occurred no matter what car he had been driving.”

Hyundai also took issue with Racine County Circuit Court Judge Eugene Gasiorkiewicz allowing what they deemed “an unqualified ‘junk science’ expert witness to testify for the plaintiff, despite the fact that they had done no work or testing on the Elantra’s seat and had no data or scientific basis for their opinions,” Stewart said.

Stewart said the defense was also barred from telling the jury that the Elantra’s seat design is a common design, used by many other car companies, including Honda, Toyota and Nissan.

“The trial judge prevented Hyundai from showing the jury crucial testing that it had done during the development of the seat design which he allowed the plaintiff to tell the jury hadn’t been done,” Stewart said. “Throughout the trial, the trial judge excluded crucial evidence for Hyundai which should have been allowed.”

“Hyundai Motor America is extremely disappointed in the jury verdict, an outrageous judgment which we believe was not supported by the facts.” —Michael Stewart, senior group manager for Hyundai Motor America

"Hyundai Motor America is extremely disappointed in the jury verdict, an outrageous judgment which we believe was not supported by the facts." 

—Michael Stewart, senior group manager for Hyundai Motor America

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Alyssa Mauk covers breaking news and courts. She enjoys spending time with her family, video games, heavy metal music, watching YouTube videos, comic books and movies.

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