Lawsuit Over Kia Sephia Seatbelts Results in $40M Verdict

The family of an Alabama teenager killed in an automobile accident in 2004, has been awarded $40 million in a wrongful death lawsuit against Kia Motors, which claimed that their vehicle had defective seatbelts that should have been recalled. 

The complaint was filed by the family of Tiffany Stabler, who was 16 when she was ejected from her 1999 Kia Sephia on July 4, 2004.

According to the lawsuit, a Kia recall had been issued for the defective seatbelts in a number of vehicles, but not the model Stabler was driving, despite the fact that it had the same faulty seatbelts that led to a recall of 1995 through 1998 model year Kia Sephia and Sportage vehicles.

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All of the vehicles used the A97 seatbelt buckle, which government investigators determined had a defective latching system that allowed the occupant to believe the seatbelt was latched in place when it may not be. In response to federal inquiries over reported problems with the seatbelts, Kia recalled 189,000 vehicles from the 1995-1998 model years in 2002, but not the 1999 Kia Sephia model Stabler was in at the time of the accident.

In 2004, the government asked the auto maker why it had not issued a recall for 1999-2000 vehicles, since they appeared to use the same seatbelt buckles. The company was asked to turn over buckles for testing, which the company failed to do. A month after Stabler’s death, another 251,000 vehicles were recalled, including the model Stabler had been driving.

The product liability lawsuit claimed that the used vehicle had been taken to a Kia dealership before it was given to Stabler and the dealership conducted a safety inspection to make sure any recalled parts had been repaired. However, since the Kia seatbelt recall did not include the 1999 Sephia model at that time, the defective seatbelt buckles were left in place.

The case took five years to resolve and went through two appeals to the Alabama Supreme Court.


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