Reclining Seat Wrongful Death Verdict Affirmed

The 5th Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed a jury verdict that found a design defect in a Hyundai SUV.

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Plaintiff’s lawsuit alleged that the wrongful death of a 19 year-old girl occurred when she was taking a nap in a Hyundai Tucson’s front passenger reclining seat and was thrown out of the car due to the negligence of the driver. She was air-lifted to a nearby hospital but died in transport.

The crux of Plaintiff’s lawsuit was that Hyundai chose not to use available accident safety technology that would prevent reclining seats from being tilted back more than a 45-degree angle (at least while the car is moving).


The jury agreed that the design defect was “a producing cause of the occurrence or injuries in question.” The jury assigned 45% responsibility to the driver, 10% to decedent, and 45% to Hyundai, awarding $900,000 to each of the parents (which was reduced to $810,000), Stuart and Lisa, for loss of companionship and mental anguish. The final judgment was reduced to $405,000 for each parent, based on the liability allocations.

This verdict, and the 5th Circuit’s decision, underscores that car manufacturers are going to be held accountable for reclining seats that tilt more that 45 degrees.

You can read the full opinion here.