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Court ruling against Hyundai could expose auto makers to billions in damages

December 19, 1996

LOS ANGELES (AP) _ A California appeals court ruled that Hyundai Motor America was not protected from litigation in a 1990 case simply because its seat belts met federal standards.

The ruling could expose auto makers to billions of dollars in damages in lawsuits over alleged seat belt and air bag defects. Auto makers reportedly are concerned that the decision could be used by other courts as precedent in hundreds of auto air bag cases pending throughout the country.

In as many as 200 cases, plaintiffs have argued that car makers should be held liable for injuries they received while driving cars that were not equipped with air bags.

Plaintiffs argue that car makers should have installed air bags because they were known to provide additional protection. Air bags were one of three passive-restraint systems available on the cars.

Acting on a separate issue in the same case, the appellate panel in October reversed a $15-million judgment against Hyundai and sent the case back to Los Angeles Superior Court for a new trial.

The case involves Adam Ketchum, a Lakewood youth, who sustained severe head injuries in the 1990 accident while wearing his seat belt supplied with his family’s 1988 Hyundai Excel.

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