November 26, 2009 in Business

Hyundai at fault, court says

Rachel La Corte Associated Press
 

OLYMPIA – The state Supreme Court on Wednesday reinstated an $8 million default judgment against Hyundai Motor Co. in a lawsuit over the backward collapse of a front seat in a 1997 crash that left a man paralyzed.

In a 7-2 ruling, the high court reversed the Court of Appeals, which had overturned a trial court’s finding for Jesse Magana of Vancouver, Wash.

The justices said the South Korean automaker deliberately withheld documentation from Magana’s lawyers for too long concerning other crashes in which front seats collapsed backward.

“Trial courts need not tolerate deliberate and willful discovery abuse,” wrote the majority, led by Justice Richard Sanders. “This result appropriately compensates the other party, punishes Hyundai, and hopefully educates and deters others so inclined.”

The court also ruled that Hyundai should pay Magana’s attorney fees and expenses.

Magana, 51, said he was relieved by the court’s decision and wished it hadn’t taken so many years to resolve the case.

“It’s been extremely frustrating, mainly because it would have been over with if they never lied in the first place,” he said.

“I can understand an accident. Things happen,” Magana said. But when it came out that Hyundai knew there was a problem with the seat back, “that’s what hurt, because it could have been prevented.”

One of Magana’s lawyers, Peter O’Neil, said Hyundai began strengthening the seat-reclining mechanism on its Accent model around 2000.

Hyundai officials did not immediately return phone and e-mail messages seeking comment Wednesday.

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