Alabama teen Tiffany Stabler got a 1999 Kia Sephia for her sixteenth birthday in 2004. After her father purchased the car, he took it to a Kia dealership to have all of the maintenance and recall work completed. In 2002, Kia had recalled seatbelt buckles on 1995-1998 Sephias and Sportages for a condition called "false latching," wherein a belt appears to be locked into the buckle but actually isn't. Stabler's car wasn't part of the recall, even though the 1999 and 2000 Sephias used the same buckle as the 1995-1998 models.

Just four months after receiving the car, Stabler got into an accident, was ejected from the car and later died from her injuries. Stabler's mother sued Kia, Kia Motors America and Celtrion, the Korean maker of the seatbelt, for wrongful death. After five years in trial and two visits to the Alabama Supreme Court, a lower-court jury decided for the plaintiffs and issued a $40-million judgment against Kia.

Whether or not Stabler was wearing her seatbelt was disputed: plaintiff's witnesses said she was, Kia said there was evidence that she wasn't. A lawyer for Celtrion said "the seatbelt system in her vehicle was not defective when put to normal use," even though the 1995-1998 recall was occasioned by inquiries by the U.S. government about the belts. The 1999-2000 cars were recalled in 2004, after the U.S. inquired again as to why they weren't included the first time. Kia has said it will petition the court to set aside the verdict.


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  • 65 Comments
      • 3 Years Ago
      [blocked]
        scott
        • 3 Years Ago
        I agree, they made dreadful cars before 5-6 years ago, horrible safety standards...especially in the death trap known as the Sportage, I have personally known 2 people to die in a Sportage, I would strongly advise no parent to buy a first gen Sportage as someone's first car.
          NightFlight
          • 3 Years Ago
          @scott
          A friend of our family had a first generation Kia Sportage and rolled it three times HARD. He walked away from the accident without a single injury, just a couple of bruises and cuts from broken glass while trying to climb out.
          • 3 Years Ago
          @scott
          [blocked]
        creamwobbly
        • 3 Years Ago
        Well she *was* Killed In Action...
      • 3 Years Ago
      [blocked]
        NightFlight
        • 3 Years Ago
        I always want to meet people who make comments like this. The ones who I have learned who they are, and where they are from fit this profile perfectly: Drive something American that was a lower budget vehicle, more than likely made in the mid 1980s. They were uneducated (didn't graduate highschool, no GED) and live in middle America or in the southeast. Parents were xenophobic/racist and passed it onto their children, etc. Something tells me you fit that profile pretty well.
          • 3 Years Ago
          @NightFlight
          [blocked]
          WillieD
          • 3 Years Ago
          @NightFlight
          I was with you until you said southeast. But I guess it's natural for me to get offensive when I'm from and live in the southeast. It's also ironic how Kia makes many of their cars in West Point, GA, only about 30 minutes from where I live.
          • 3 Years Ago
          @NightFlight
          [blocked]
          creamwobbly
          • 3 Years Ago
          @NightFlight
          Yeah I agree on the point of prejudice; but have you *driven* a KIA recently? They're bloody terrible -- and I should know because I learnt to drive in a Lada. I'll give 'em a chance -- I'd love to find another cheap car that's good to drive.
          • 3 Years Ago
          @NightFlight
          [blocked]
          NightFlight
          • 3 Years Ago
          @NightFlight
          @ WillieD I've got nothing against the SE at all. Kia's plant in West Point is absolutely massive, I've driven by it a few times and I'm glad that Kia has created so many jobs in that area. @ Austin 100% false. I live in Vienna, VA and grew up in Great Falls, VA. You might want to look up that area before you start saying anything about it being broke or having the poorest scoring education system in the country. I just don't like xenophobic racists.
        • 3 Years Ago
        [blocked]
      NightFlight
      • 3 Years Ago
      "Whether or not Stabler was wearing her seatbelt was disputed: plaintiff's witnesses said she was, Kia said there was evidence that she wasn't." Did anyone else raise an eyebrow at this? So if there is no proof that she was, or wasn't wearing a seatbelt, then how can anything be determined? I don't get our legal system sometimes.....
        mbmorrow4
        • 3 Years Ago
        @NightFlight
        There was testimony that she was wearing the seatbelt which the jury obviously accepted at trial. KIA provided the evidence in favor of the proposition that she was not. There are many cases where the only proof of a contested fact is witness testimony. The jury becomes the arbiter of the credibility of the witnesses. The determined that the Plaintiff met the burden of proof otherwise there would have been a verdict for KIA.
      iwkjp1
      • 3 Years Ago
      Even if it was seat belt fault, $40M is pretty insane claim.
        axiomatik
        • 3 Years Ago
        @iwkjp1
        The $40M is not to make up for the lost life, it is to punish Kia for not doing the right thing in the first place. Hence the term 'Punitive Damages'. Punitive Damages provide a strong incentive for companies to not cut corners in the future.
      SheldonRoss
      • 3 Years Ago
      40M ?? That's a little - rather alot - excessive. I'm not heartless and I understand the tragedy of this, but 40M is far more than the average person will earn in 10 lifetimes. That's about the total annual revenue (not profit) of an average Wal- mart which employs 200+ people! This kind of stuff reminds me of this http://thelede.blogs.nytimes.com/2008/05/02/you-want-that-360-billion-in-small-bills/
        Bruce Lee
        • 3 Years Ago
        @SheldonRoss
        That's not really the point though...if you only awarded small amounts then companies would have no incentive to stop doing this kind of crap since a few million dollars is a joke to a large international corporation. For that matter even $40 million is a drop in the bucket for a company like Kia.
        unywwvpc
        • 3 Years Ago
        @SheldonRoss
        @Bruce Lee Unlike toyota's sudden unintended acceleration, main body of death was not seat belt. speeding ?
        ANB
        • 3 Years Ago
        @SheldonRoss
        Ah, the beauty of civil jury trials. :-)
      unywwvpc
      • 3 Years Ago
      Teens in Alabama are expected to earn $40M? Is she movie star or something?
        ANB
        • 3 Years Ago
        @unywwvpc
        The award likely has nothing to do with loss of future earnings. Note that it was a jury trial. As far as my familiarity with American legal system permits me to understand, this means that the jury is also responsible for fixing the award of damages. Needless to say, juries are often guided by their own sense of what's a "just" amount of damages. This screams for an appeal, and appealed it will be. With $40M in damages, you'd be willing to pay millions in legal fees to get it reduced.
      brian
      • 3 Years Ago
      Teens in Alabama are expected to earn $1MM a year nowadays?
        Zoom
        • 3 Years Ago
        @brian
        When your teenage daughter is killed because some corporation was lazy, get back to me.
          axiomatik
          • 3 Years Ago
          @Zoom
          It's called Punitive Damages, look it up. The purpose of Punitive Damages is to be large enough to sting company responsible and give them a strong incentive to not cut corners in the future. If the settlement were only $4M, and it would have cost the company $10M to do the recall, they are still ahead financially, and from an accounting perspective, made the right decision (obviously not the ethical decision). But with the $40M settlement, Kia has taken a bigger hit, and maybe next time will recall *all* affected models.
          axiomatik
          • 3 Years Ago
          @Zoom
          Brian Parker: You say you know what Punitive Damages are, but you obviously don't. Compensatory Damages are what is awarded to make up for the lost life. If a husband dies or is disabled, Compensatory Damages would be awarded due to lost wages, etc. Punitive Damages are in addition to Compensatory Damages, and the purpose is to punish the defendant. Kia should have recalled all vehicles with the defective belts, but didn't. So the Jury decided to punish Kia for it's negligence. Don't try to confuse the issue with questions about the experience of the driver. The subject of the lawsuit is that the seat belt is supposed to keep you restrained, and for this girl, it didn't. It was a failure on Kia's part. If Kia had performed the recall correctly, her car would not have had defective seat belts.
          brian
          • 3 Years Ago
          @Zoom
          Not blaming the victim, and not taking anything away from the parent's grief... ....but there's no way on earth that a typcal teenager could be reasonably expected to earn more than $100,000 a year for all 40 years of her expected working career. A judgement of $4MM might be appropriate - Ten times that much is excessive.
          Brian E Parker
          • 3 Years Ago
          @Zoom
          Yes, I know what Punitive Damages are - and $40MM worth is excessive for someone who isn't worth that much. (if she was, why wasn't she insured for $40MM?) After all, she was driving the car - or not driving since she "lost control". Where is the personal responsibility here - Kia didn't put an inexperienced 16 year old behind the wheel and Kia didn't distract her from the basic task of paying attention while driving...
          Compliance
          • 3 Years Ago
          @Zoom
          Hyperbole. She was killed because she got into a car accident.
        4 String
        • 3 Years Ago
        @brian
        But how can you put a value on a life? A life is more valuable than 40 mil, earnings aside. I agree with your math, but I think a lot of people on this comments page are neglecting the aspect beyond the numbers.
          Brian E Parker
          • 3 Years Ago
          @4 String
          Insurance companies put a value on life every day...
      Jake S
      • 3 Years Ago
      The same thing happened to me with a Saturn (GM) recall. They said my 1995 car wasn't affected by a seat recall where the seat would fail in an accident and that it only applied to earlier models. Well, I got rear-ended at a stop light by an idiot girl in a mustang dialing on her cell phone while going 35 mph and my seat failed, threw me in the back seat and put me in traction for a few months. Turned out there was no difference between the seat mechanism on my car and on the group that got recalled. I'll never buy another GM. Given this article, I'll probably never buy a Kia either.
      • 3 Years Ago
      [blocked]
      Tolitz Rosel
      • 3 Years Ago
      This topic needs more hate... ... oh wait it ain't Toyota... never mind ;)
      dave and mary
      • 3 Years Ago
      Makes it sound like the family will get 40M. No way. Kia will appeal. They'll settle for 10 and then the atty's will get 70%. After taxes the fam. will end up with 2M. Watch and see.
        mbmorrow4
        • 3 Years Ago
        @dave and mary
        Attorneys typically get 33-40% plus costs advanced. It is expensive to litigate a products liability case with experts who are necessary to make the case. Depending on the facts of the specific case, puntitve damages may be part of the award. Here there was probably an issue as to why the 1999 seat belts were not recalled until 2004. Awards on personal injury and wrongful death cases are not usually taxable.
        axiomatik
        • 3 Years Ago
        @dave and mary
        Attorney's fees on cases like this are typically ~33%, not 70%.
      g-force
      • 3 Years Ago
      The writer of the article, Jonathon Ramsey, should learn how to spell judgment... Sad loss nevertheless for the family. For Kia it is pocket money, but they will still appeal anyway.
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