Judge Reduces Hyundai Lawsuit Punitive Damages by $170 Million

A Montana judge has slashed a punitive damages award from $240 million to $73 million in a lawsuit filed against Hyundai Motor Corp. over a crash that killed two Missoula cousins in July 2011.

Jurors awarded $1 million in damages to each parent and $500,000 to each sibling of 19-year-old Trevor Olson and 14-year-old Tanner Olson in May’s trial.

Jurors also awarded $2.6 million for lost earnings to Trevor Olson’s estate, bringing the total for compensatory and actual damages to $8.1 million.

After finding that Hyundai knew about a manufacturing defect in the steering knuckle of its vehicles and did not issue a recall, jurors awarded an additional $240 million in punitive damages.

The cousins’ families alleged that the accident was caused by a broken steering mechanism defect in the Hyundai Tiburon Trevor was driving. Hyundai said someone shot off recently purchased fireworks in the vehicle, causing the driver to swerve into the path of an oncoming car.

Under state law, judges must review damage awards. The state also limits punitive damages to the lesser of $10 million or 3 percent of a defendant’s net worth. The estates of the victims asked District Judge Kim Christopher to uphold the punitive damages, while Hyundai Motor America sought to reduce damages to $1 million.

In a ruling filed last week, the Judge found the state law that limits punitive damages to be unconstitutional. She also said, however, punitive damage awards must also be reasonable.

Case law indicates that a single-digit ratio between punitive and compensatory damages is more likely to be held up on appeal, Christopher wrote. Multiplying the compensatory and actual damages of $8.1 million by nine (the highest single digit number) Christopher ordered nearly $73 million in punitive damages.

While no dollar award can ever compensate for the loss of loved one, a financial award is certainly both deserved and justified when the crash was caused by the negligence of the manufacturer.

If you or a loved one has been injured or killed as a result of the negligence of others, you may be entitled to compensation for your damages. Contact one of our Gacovino Lake attorneys at 1-800-246-HURT (4878) for more information.

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