Fresh off a $758 million settlement that ended litigation over engine fires, Hyundai and Kia face a new proposed class action lawsuit that alleges the automatic power windows in certain vehicle models pose a significant safety risk in that the feature’s “stop-and-reverse” function does not comply with federal standards.
The lawsuit out of California’s Orange County Superior Court states that while automatic window systems have essentially become standard for many vehicle models, the feature, if left unregulated, comes with a risk of injury—primarily in the event an occupant’s hand, fingers or neck gets caught in the path of a power window. In an effort to prevent consumer and child injuries, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) rolled out Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard (FMVSS) 118, which federally requires vehicles made from 2008 onward with automatic power windows to also have a “stop-and-reverse” function when a foreign object, such as a child’s hand or finger, moves into a window’s path. More specifically, FMVSS 118 requires a vehicle’s automatic windows to stop closing and reverse direction “upon encountering a foreign obstruction of 100 newtons of pressure,” the suit says. According to the lawsuit, a pressure point of 100 newtons is equivalent to 22.5 pounds of force, which means a vehicle’s automatic window system “can exert no more than 22.5 pounds of force” on, say, a hand or finger before stopping and reversing direction.
According to the lawsuit, Hyundai and Kia have manufactured and sold “millions” of cars with non-FMVSS 118-compliant stop-and-reverse systems, which the plaintiffs argue have subjected drivers and passengers to “serious risk of injury or death.” The automatic window systems in certain Hyundai and Kia vehicles fail to stop and reverse at 100 newtons of pressure, which leaves a car’s occupants “at risk of losing fingers or hands, and even their lives,” the lawsuit claims.
The complaint includes a somewhat ghastly example of the damage an automatic window can do should its stop-and-reverse function fail to recognize 100 newtons of force:
“A simple carrot can illustrate the massive amount of force the Hyundai and Kia window systems exert. A raw carrot requires 200 newtons of pressure to slice through it, meaning that an automatic window system that complies with FMVSS 118 would never be able to chop a carrot in two. Yet, the Hyundai and Kia automatic windows regularly slice carrots in half, exerting more than twice the amount of pressure allowed by federal law.”
According to the lawsuit, Hyundai and Kia vehicles made from July 2008 to the present, and sold in particular to California residents, may come equipped with non-federally compliant stop-and-reverse automatic window systems. All told, the plaintiffs allege Hyundai and Kia have not only misrepresented to consumers their commitment to safety, but have reduced the value of proposed class members’ cars due to the apparent automatic window system defect.