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Jury finds $14M in damages in airbag lawsuit

PULASKI, Va. — A jury has awarded a Radford, Va., family more than $14 million in a lawsuit against Hyundai after a teenager sustained a brain injury in a 2010 car accident.

Ari Casper

Ari Casper

A Pulaski Circuit Court jury made the ruling Friday in the suit brought by the parents of Zachary “Gage” Duncan.
Duncan, now 20, was 16 when the 2008 Tiburon he was driving went off a road before striking a tree. His side air bag didn’t deploy.

The lead attorney for the family, Ari Casper, argued that air bag sensors in Tiburons from the 2003 to 2008 model years were in the wrong location and failed to detect when the side air bag should deploy. As a result, he said, Duncan’s head hit the roof rail of the Tiburon.

Hyundai attorney Harlan Prater, of Birmingham, Ala., said the car exceeded federal safety standards, The Roanoke Times reported. Hyundais were among just 20 percent of cars that had side airbags at the time, Prater said, and the location of the airbag had been tested repeatedly.

In response, Casper said he told the jury, “you don’t design cars to pass tests; you design them to protect occupants.”

The case originally was tried last fall but a mistrial was declared in September, after jurors reported they were deadlocked.

The second trial began June 17 in front of Judge Colin Gibb. The jury of three women and four men deliberated for about eight hours before finding Friday that Hyundai breached the implied warranty of merchantability.

The jury awarded Duncan $140,000 in past medical expenses and $14 million to pay for a lifetime of specialized care, Casper said.

Casper, a graduate of the University of Maryland and the University of Baltimore School of Law, is a partner with Stein Mitchell Muse & Cipollone LLP in Washington, D.C., and maintains an office in Baltimore. Prior to joining Stein Mitchell, he worked with Hogan & Hartson in Baltimore and as a federal prosecutor in the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Baltimore. He tried the case with co-counsel Julie Mitchell, Ron Kovner and Rory Kelly, all of Stein Mitchell.

Post-trial motions are expected in the case.

The Associated Press and The Daily Record’s sister publication, Virginia Lawyers Weekly, contributed to this report.