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Jury Finds Hyundai Liable for $15 Million in Seat Belt Case

May 25, 1993

LOS ANGELES (AP) _ A jury awarded $15 million to a 9-year-old boy who suffered brain damage in a car wreck while wearing a Hyundai shoulder belt system that didn’t include a lap restraint.

Hyundai Motor America, which put the ″passive″ or automatic belts in some 1987 and 1988 models, said it would appeal the decision and would not recall the cars. The company said the system had been proven safe.

The Los Angeles County Superior Court jury in suburban Norwalk found Hyundai liable Monday for injuries Adam Ketchum suffered in a September 1990 accident.

Adam was riding with his mother when her 1988 Hyundai Excel hit the back of an illegally parked 60-ton truck on a freeway on-ramp. The boy was sitting in the front passenger seat, wearing the shoulder belt. He was blinded and is unable to speak or use his arms and legs.

The trucking company agreed to pay $1 million.

Attorney Mark P. Robinson Jr. argued that Hyundai was at fault because the impact caused the belt to press Adam’s neck, cutting off the oxygen supply to his brain.

The Ketchum’s attorney said the ″two-point diagonal″ seat belt system has been shown in crash tests to be harmful to shorter adults but was never tested with child-size dummies.

Hyundai attorneys said the belts met federal safety standards.

″We believe that the two-point seat belts are not defective,″ said Dotty Diemer, a spokeswoman for Hyundai Motor America in Fountain Valley. ″We are not recalling the vehicles.″

The belts were installed in about 92,500 cars sold in 1987 and 1988, said Diemer.

That amounts to about 10 percent of the Excels sold in 1987, the first year such restraints were federally mandated, and 25 percent of those sold in 1988, she said.

The cars’ shoulder belt slides into place automatically when the door is closed, but there is no lap belt, she said.

The jury found the 1988 Hyundai Excel’s seat belt system was defective and that Hyundai failed to warn consumers of a danger it posed to children.

The jury awarded the boy $13 million in economic damages for loss of earning potential and $2 million for pain and suffering.

The boy’s father, Robert Ketchum, got $40,000 for economic losses he suffered by quitting his job to care for Adam.

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