Lowndes County, Alabama, has a reputation for being a rather plaintiff-friendly jurisdiction. On Tuesday, however, a jury there returned a verdict in favor of Hyundai Motor Co. in a wrongful death suit. In 1999, Christine Graham was killed “when her 2,300-pound Hyundai Excel was struck by a 79,000-pound Freightliner 18-wheeler going more than 60 miles per hour. Attorneys for the Graham family argued that a faulty seat belt and door latch design contributed to her death in the accident. Hyundai attorneys said the seat belt and door latch met all safety standards and the sheer force of the accident caused the woman’s death.” The case had been tried once before, in July 2002, ending in a hung jury that voted 10-2 in Hyundai’s favor. (Michael Tomberlin, “Hyundai prevails in crash lawsuit,” Birmingham News, June 24).
It’s interesting to note that Hyundai is building its first US assembly plant in adjacent Montgomery Country. When opened in 2005, the $1 billion facility will employ 2,000 people. I’ll leave it to others to divine whether this had any effect on the outcome of Hyundai’s case.