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In Brief: Hyundai ordered to pay families $240 million in damages

Thu., May 15, 2014

POLSON, Mont. – A Montana jury has ordered Hyundai to pay $240 million in punitive damages after finding that a manufacturing defect in a Hyundai vehicle caused a crash that killed two Missoula cousins in July 2011.

The award handed down late Tuesday was on top of $8.6 million in actual damages and lost earnings the jury awarded to the families of 19-year-old Trevor Olson and 14-year-old Tanner Olson. The cousins died when their 2005 Hyundai Tiburon slammed head-on into another car in 2011.

It’s unclear if the punitive damages will stand. Montana has a $10 million cap on such damages, but that’s being challenged after a District Court judge in Butte ruled it wasn’t high enough to deter future wrongdoing by wealthy companies.

Hyundai Motor America released a statement Wednesday saying it believes the jury’s verdict is mistaken and a damage award of three times what was sought by the plaintiffs is “outrageous and should be overturned.” The company plans an immediate appeal.

The lawsuit alleged that a defective steering knuckle in the 2005 Hyundai Tiburon that Trevor Olson was driving caused the car to suddenly veer into an oncoming lane and crash into another car. A passenger in that car, 21-year-old Stephanie Nicole Parker-Shepherd, of Arlee, was killed and her husband and two children were severely injured.

Hyundai issued a recall in 2005 for 111 Tiburons manufactured over a one-month period that year over a steering issue, but the problem was different than the one cited at trial and it’s unclear if the teens were driving a recalled car.

Teens confess to burglary before Montana shooting

MISSOULA – Two teens have confessed to burglarizing a Missoula residence, angering the homeowners in the weeks before a German exchange student was shot to death in the garage.

An amended affidavit filed by Deputy Missoula County Attorney Andrew Paul this week said the 16- and 18-year-old told investigators they took two wallets with credit cards, an iPhone, marijuana and paraphernalia from Markus Kaarma’s garage or unlocked vehicles in the driveway. Their names have not been released.

Kaarma’s attorney, Paul Ryan, has said his client was the victim of multiple break-ins before the fatal encounter last month.

Prosecutors say Kaarma and his girlfriend, Janelle Pflager, set up motion sensors and a video feed to catch whoever was stealing from them and that Kaarma shot 17-year-old Diren Dede when the boy was spotted in the garage.

The teens, whose confession was included in the document filed Monday, denied any connection between themselves and Dede or another exchange student who was with Dede the night he was shot.

Kaarma, 29, is charged with deliberate homicide. Ryan has said Kaarma will plead not guilty and that he was defending his home and in fear for his life. An arraignment date has not been set.

Birth defects forum raises questions about cluster

SUNNYSIDE, Wash. –People attending a community forum on birth defects asked state health officials about possible causes for an unusual cluster of cases in Eastern Washington, including nitrates in the water, pesticide exposure, diet and proximity to the Hanford Nuclear Reservation.

The Washington state Department of Health has been looking for risk factors and will keep investigating, state epidemiologist Dr. Juliet VanEenwyk said.

“We would love to find a smoking gun and have things align; if you find a cause, you can prevent. If you can’t find a cause, you can’t prevent,” VanEenwyk told about 25 people Tuesday evening at the Sunnyside Community Center.

Yakima, Benton and Franklin counties have seen an abnormally high rate of anencephaly, a rare and fatal birth defect that occurs when the protective neural tube fails to close at the base of a baby’s skull.

State health officials started investigating in 2012. They scoured hospital and clinic records to identify all possible cases. Investigators studied the medical records of affected women to look for possible common risk factors such as where they lived, whether they were taking their prenatal vitamins, and if they were on private wells for water.

So far, no common cause has stood out, the Yakima Herald-Republic reported.

Cayuse Pass scheduled to open at noon Friday

OLYMPIA – The state Transportation Department plans to open Cayuse Pass at noon Friday.

The 4,675-foot-high pass on Highway 410 serves as a scenic entrance to the east side of Mount Rainier National Park.

Cayuse Pass had been closed on Nov. 20, and crews started clearing the snow in early March.


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