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$73M punitive damage award upheld against Hyundai

In personal injury lawsuits involving car accidents, plaintiffs who can prove that they were injured because of the negligent actions of the defendant are entitled to damages. The damages include compensation for the losses that were suffered in the accidents, such as medical expenses, lost wages and pain and suffering.

But in some cases in which the defendants were more than negligent, the plaintiffs might also be entitled to punitive damages, which can greatly exceed the amount of actual losses sustained and are intended to punish the defendants for their bad actions. 

In an example of this, a judge recently upheld an order requiring Hyundai Motor Co. to pay the families of two teenagers who were killed in a 2011 car wreck $73 million in punitive damages.  The fatal crash was said to be caused by a steering defect, which the auto company had received several reports of but chose not to issue a recall to have the problem fixed.

The judge concluded that the company demonstrated “an indifference to or reckless disregard of the health and safety of the motoring public” by knowing for over a decade that the steering knuckles in their passenger vehicles were subpar but did nothing to investigate or address the issue.

According to the plaintiff families, the two teenage cousins were killed when the driver lost control and crashed the 2005 Hyundai Tiburon because a defective steering knuckle broke. Hyundai argued that the crash had occurred because fireworks went off in the car right before the crash.

The original jury award was for $248 million and was the sixth largest so far this year in the country. The award was lowered to $73 million in punitive damages plus $8.1 million in actual damages by a judge. Hyundai petitioned to have the damage award lowered even further but the total judgment of $81 million was upheld.

Hyundai said it plans to appeal the most recent decision.

Source: Bloomberg.com, "Hyundai Must Pay $73 Million Punitive Award, Judge Says," Margaret Cronin Fisk, September 22, 2014

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