Follow Us

Hyundai Motor Company lost its request to have the Wisconsin Supreme Court review a $38.1 million verdict in a product liability case involving a Racine man.

The Vanderventers’ damages were valued at $38.1 million, making it Wisconsin’s largest single-plaintiff compensatory verdict in the state’s history and Wisconsin’s largest compensatory verdict for the spouse of an injured plaintiff.

The Wisconsin Supreme Court decision ends an eight-year litigation process involving Edward Vanderventer, whose 2013 Hyundai Elantra was rear-ended on July 31, 2015. Vanderventer, who lives in Racine, suffered severe injuries in a car crash, including a spinal fracture and paraplegia.

His attorney, Timothy S. Trecek, of Habush Habush & Rottier, S.C. argued that a defect in the front seat headrest and seat back caused his injuries and that, without the defect, he would have walked away from the car crash. Hyundai denied liability, claiming the injuries resulted from the collision and/or a degenerative spine condition known as Diffuse Idiopathic Skeletal Hyperostosis (DISH). A Racine County Circuit Court jury, however, found in 2020 that Hyundai’s defective seat design was 84% responsible for causing his injuries.

“That neither the Court of Appeals nor the Wisconsin Supreme Court altered the verdict rendered by 12 Racine County jurors affirms that their decision was supported by the evidence presented,” Trecek said. “It also affirms the reasoned decisions made by Circuit Court Judge (Eugene) Gasiorkiewicz throughout the trial. The Vanderventers will now get the just compensation they deserve.”

State Supreme Court denies Hyundai’s request

In its request for review, the South Korean-based auto manufacturer argued that Gasiorkiewicz erred when he allowed testimony from two expert witnesses who showed a link between the defect and Vanderventer’s spinal fracture, admitted evidence of certain recalls, testimony comparing the design changes from Hyundai’s model years, and allowed opinions not disclosed during discovery.

Wisconsin Supreme Court Judge Lisa S. Neubauer wrote in the decision that there was “no basis for disturbing the jury’s verdict” because they were at the trial court’s discretion.

“Here, we conclude that the court’s rulings were grounded in the application of the correct legal standards to the relevant facts and were decisions that a reasonable judge could reach,” Neubauer wrote.

The Wisconsin Court of Appeals had previously affirmed the Racine County Circuit Court’s decision to dismiss Hyundai’s appeal in October 2022.

Seat defects discovered in Hyundai’s 2013 Elantra design during 2020 trial

During the 18-day trial in 2020, jurors heard testimony from over 25 witnesses, including seat design and medical experts.

Engineering experts looked at the seat designs in the model year before and after the 2013 model. They concluded that if Vanderventer had been driving a car from the previous model year or the one following, he would not have had paraplegia, Trecek said.

“We found that the budget to make this particular car was cut by many millions of dollars,” he said. “And so there were certain documents that we found that said the change in the seat back, which we alleged and ultimately the jury agreed with the defective part, allowed them to save about $7 a seat by making it cheaper than the one that made before it.”

In total, Habush Habush & Rottier, S.C. spent about $700,000 litigating the case, a sum most law firms wouldn’t have taken on because most car accidents end up settling out of court with insurance companies paying out the amount the insurance the other driver had. But this case turned into a product liability case against a large automobile manufacturer.

“It also highlights the importance of having experienced legal representation in such cases. Habush Habush & Rottier, S.C. has once again demonstrated its expertise in personal injury law and its commitment to fighting for justice on behalf of its clients,” he said.

How the decision impacts Hyundai and the Vanderventer family

The verdict is a significant setback for Hyundai, which had hoped to overturn the decision. The company will now owe the original judgment amount plus interest from the day of the verdict. Racine County Eye reached out to Hyundai for comment, but their spokesperson has not responded.

“The ruling will likely have a far-reaching impact on product liability cases and warns companies to take product safety seriously,” Trecek said.

For the Vanderventers, life is much different than before the crash.

“They’ve got each other and they’re both wonderful, wonderful people. But Mr. Vanderventer is a paraplegic who has ossification of his hip bones. So he can’t sit nor can he sit up. All he’s able to do is lay in his hospital bed with no bowel or bladder control. And that’s his life and Sue, his wife, takes care of (him) 24/7,” Trecek said.

Local news

The Racine County Eye, which includes the Kenosha Lens, is your source for local news that serves our diverse communities. Subscribe today to stay up-to-date with local news.

Follow us on Facebook: Racine County Eye or Kenosha Lens, and Twitter to make sure you get the latest news.

Racine County Eye and Kenosha Lens – Journalism that serves.

Denise Lockwood has an extensive background in traditional and non-traditional media. She has written for, the Milwaukee Business Journal, Milwaukee Magazine and the Kenosha News.

One reply on “Hyundai loses $38.1 million product liability case in Wisconsin Supreme Court decision”

Comments are closed.