A 12-year-old Lakewood boy who suffered brain damage in a traffic accident won a $15-million verdict Monday when a jury concluded that his injuries resulted in part from a defective seat belt design in 1988 Hyundai Excels.
The Los Angeles Superior Court jury, which deliberated seven days, ruled that Fountain Valley-based Hyundai Motor America Inc. and its parent company in South Korea were responsible for the injuries to Adam Ketchum, even though the seat belt met federal safety standards.
The jury, in a 9-3 ruling, decided that Hyundai's "two-point" seat belt system was defective and that the company failed to warn consumers of the potential dangers the belts posed to children, according to Adam's attorney, Mark P. Robinson Jr.
Robinson said the two-point seat belt systems have no lap restraint and can choke the necks of children in automobile accidents. In Ketchum's case, the belt compressed against his neck, causing him to be brain damaged, blind, mute and paralyzed. Further, Robinson contended, the lack of the lap belt allowed the boy to hit his head on the dashboard.
"This was a tragic case that could have been avoided," Robinson said. "Hyundai had information that the seat belts were dangerous."
Neither Hyundai officials nor their attorneys could be reached for comment after the verdict. During the trial, they contended that Adam's injuries were caused by his mother, who drove their Hyundai into the back of an illegally parked tractor-trailer on the Del Amo on-ramp of the 605 Freeway in Lakewood.
Hyundai attorneys also argued that the company was not liable because the seat belt met all federal safety standards.
Robinson contended that Hyundai knew the belts were dangerous to children and failed to warn people. He said studies from other major automobile companies had found problems with the two-point system.