Airbag control unit (ACU) defect that causes the safety devices to fail affects airbags also supplied to numerous other vehicle manufacturers, including Toyota/Acura, Honda, FiatChrysler/Dodge/Jeep, and Mitsubishi

On April 29, 2019, Lieff Cabraser and Baron & Budd filed a class action lawsuit in federal court in California on behalf of consumers across the U.S. against Hyundai Motor America, Kia Motor America, and ZF-TRW Automotive Holding Corp. over defective vehicle airbags that fail to operate during crashes due to electrical overstress (“EOS”). As detailed in the Complaint, a defect in the application-specific integrated circuit (“ASIC”) built into the airbags causes a failure in the Airbag Control Unit that prevents the airbags and the seat belt pretensioners, both vital to maximizing safety in a vehicle crash, from deploying. As the Complaint further alleges, ZF-TRW, Hyundai, and Kia became aware of the ACU defect as early as 2011, but did nothing to protect consumers or warn of the product dangers until 2018.

As the Complaint states, “From 2011 through 2015, ZF-TRW, Hyundai, and Kia investigated airbag non-deployments in several Kia and Hyundai vehicles but failed to inform NHTSA that there was an issue until the end of 2015. Even after advising NHTSA in 2015, each of these companies downplayed the severity and frequency of these non-deployment crashes. It was not until February and June of 2018 that Hyundai and Kia, respectively, issued product recalls as to a small segment of their vehicles.”

Throughout this nearly decade-long period, unsuspecting U.S. consumers purchased vehicles with defective ACUs which create a dangerous condition that gives rise to a clear, substantial, and unreasonable danger of personal injury, indisputably posing a grave and wholly unnecessary safety risk.
As the Complaint notes, “ZF-TRW, Hyundai, and Kia put profits ahead of safety by continuing to equip vehicles with ACUs year after year, even though they knew or should have known those ACUs were defective. Despite the number of airbag failures, injuries, and deaths caused by the ASIC Defect, ZF-TRW, Hyundai, and Kia were slow to fully investigate the problem and slow to report the danger to drivers and passengers of all ACU equipped vehicles. Only after several deaths, injuries, and investigations did Hyundai and Kia choose to recall a fraction of their vehicles equipped with the ASIC Defect.”

“This is not just fraud but also an astonishing breach of the public trust,” notes Lieff Cabraser partner David Stellings, one of the lawyers who filed the class action lawsuit. “Airbags and seat belts exist for only one reason: to protect passengers from being hurt in a crash. The defective ZF-TRW airbag and seatbelt system Hyundai and Kia installed in their cars do exactly the opposite – they stop working when the car crashes. Millions of drivers and passengers are at risk of being injured or killed.”

The Complaint notes that as a result of this misconduct, Plaintiffs and members of the proposed Classes were harmed and suffered actual damages; they did not receive the benefit of their bargain, and instead purchased or leased vehicles that are of a lesser standard, grade, and quality than represented, and did not receive vehicles that met ordinary and reasonable consumer expectations regarding safe and reliable operation. Purchasers or lessees of the affected vehicles paid more, either through a higher purchase price or higher lease payments, than they would have had the ASIC defect been disclosed. Plaintiffs and the Classes were deprived of having a safe, defect-free airbag installed in their vehicles, and ZF-TRW, Hyundai, and Kia unjustly benefited from their unconscionable delay in recalling its defective products, as they avoided incurring the costs associated with recalls and installing replacement parts for years.

Vehicles in the Lawsuit

“Class Vehicles” refers to the Kia Forte 2013; Kia Forte Koup 2013; Kia Optima 2013-2019; Kia Optima Hybrid 2012-2016; Kia Sedona 2014; Hyundai Sonata 2013-2019; and Hyundai Sonata Hybrid 2013-2019. (The defective ZF-TRW airbags were also supplied to other vehicle manufacturers, including Toyota/Acura, Honda, FiatChrysler/Dodge/Ram/Jeep, and Mitsubishi.)

The class action lawsuit states claims that include fraud, fraudulent concealment, violations of the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (“RICO”), violation of the Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act, unjust enrichment, violation of the Song-Beverly Consumer Warranty Act for Breach of Implied Warranty of Merchantability, and violation of the California Unfair Competition Law. The lawsuit seeks class certification as well as remedies in the form of an order enjoining Hyundai and Kia from further deceptive distribution, sales, and lease practices with respect to the affected vehicles, an award to plaintiffs and the class members of compensatory, exemplary, and punitive damages, and an award for the return of the purchase price of the affected vehicles.

About Lieff Cabraser

Recognized as “one of the nation’s premier plaintiffs’ firms” by The American Lawyer, Lieff Cabraser is a national plaintiffs’ law firm with offices in San Francisco, New York, and Nashville. We have successfully prosecuted scores of product defect class action lawsuits against many of the largest U.S. manufacturers and corporations. Working with co-counsel, we have achieved judgments and settlements in these cases in excess of $19 billion for consumers.

About Baron & Budd

Established more than four decades ago to fight for workers injured by asbestos, Baron & Budd has expanded to confront not only the asbestos industry but also other societal threats such as water contamination, unsafe pharmaceutical drugs and devices, financial industry fraud, and automobile recalls. Baron & Budd has been named repeatedly to “The Plaintiffs’ Hot List” of exemplary plaintiffs’ firms in the United States by The National Law Journal. Legal 500 has repeatedly honored Baron & Budd for being one of the top two law firms in the U.S. for toxic tort claims.


Nimish Desai
Lieff Cabraser Heimann & Bernstein, LLP
415 956-1000

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