The parents of Zachary Gage Duncan bought him a 2008 Hyundai Tiburon, which was equipped with side-impact air bags designed to protect an occupant’s head and thorax in a side impact.
While Duncan was driving the car, it left the road, and the driver’s side door struck a tree. The side air bag failed to deploy.
Duncan, 16, suffered a severe traumatic brain injury resulting in substantial cognitive, emotional and behavioral deficits. Although Duncan is able to walk, he has had a flat affect, poor eye contact, and slightly decreased ability to process thoughts. He often repeats words and thoughts and has a difficulty when it comes to completing thoughts. He is also prone to uncontrollable emotional outbursts. He does require daily supervision and is disabled from any type of competitive employment.
Duncan’s past medical expenses totaled about $140,000. The present value of his future medical expenses as well as life care costs is estimated at $10.8 million.
Duncan’s parents, as guardians on his behalf, sued Hyundai Motor Co. and its’ U.S. subsidiary, alleging defective design of the car’s air bag sensor system.
The plaintiffs contended that the sensor failed to detect failed to detect the crash because it was located because it was located too far in-board, on the cross member under the driver’s seat. The plaintiff’s expert testified that the sensor should have been located on the B-pillar—outboard over the driver’s left shoulder—which is in the crush zone.
Although the system passed all federal motor vehicle safety standards, the plaintiffs introduced evidence that the vehicle was performing poorly on Hyundai’s own in-house testing.
The plaintiffs stated that if the air bag had inflated, as it was designed to do, Duncan would have escaped a serious brain injury.
The plaintiffs sought lost future earnings of between $1.1 million and $1.9 million, depending on whether Duncan achieved a high school diploma or a two-year Associates’ degree.
The jury awarded $14.14 million, including $14 million to Duncan and $140,000 to his parents for past medical expenses.
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