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Kia Ordered to Pay $40M Alabama Seat Belt Defect Verdict Over False Latching in Teenagers 2004 Wrongful Death

Seven years after 16-year-old Tiffany Stabler was killed in a deadly car crash, a jury has awarded a $40 million Alabama auto products liability verdict to her family over her wrongful death. Stabler died on July 4, 2004 after she was ejected from the used 1999 Kia Sephia that her dad had given her just two months before on her birthday. The plaintiff’s claim that because the seat belt was defective, it failed to keep Tiffany “buckled up” when she lost control of the vehicle, causing her to sustain fatal injuries.
Although Kia had issued a recall in 2002 over this “false latching” defect, that notice was only for vehicle models 1995 to 1998. In their Alabama seat belt defect lawsuit, Stabler’s family contended that Kia did know that the seat belts in its 1999 and 2000 models had the same safety issue but failed to also recall those vehicles.
False Latching
With the “false latching” defect, a seat belt may appear, feel, and sound like it is properly secured in the buckle when in fact it is not. Even the slightest force can cause the buckle, which isn’t latched properly, to come out of the latch plate. This leaves the vehicle occupant unbelted and not properly restrained, which can prove catastrophic during a car accident. A passenger who is unrestrained by a seat belt can end up ejected from the vehicle, thrown through the windshield or windows, or against the roof of the car. Traumatic brain injury, spinal cord injury, crush injuries, organ damage, or death can result.
Some Other Seat Belt Defects:

  • Torn or ripped webbing: A defect in the belt causes the webbing to rip or tear, which can leave the vehicle occupant without adequate restraint protection.
  • Inertial latching: The seat belt is more prone to coming unbuckled during a car crash.
  • Retractor failure: When the retractor fails to hold the belt in place, too much slack can arise. This can cause the occupant to sustain serious injuries during a crash if he/she isn’t adequately restrained and kept securely in place.
  • Lap-only seat belts: This seat belt only restrains an occupant’s lower body and does not protect against chest, abdominal, spinal, or head injuries.

Kia hit with $40M verdict in faulty seatbelt death, The Star, June 28, 2011
Defective seatbelt flaw ruling costs Kia $40 million, Torque News, June 28, 2011

Related Web Resources:
National Highway Traffic Safety Administration
Car Reviews and Ratings, Consumer Reports
Motor Vehicle Recalls, Safercar.gov

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