Milwaukee man sues Hyundai and Kia over car models that are easily stolen

Last updated on February 21st, 2023 at 01:31 pm

After becoming one of the hundreds of Milwaukeeans who have had their Kia or Hyundai vehicle stolen, one man has taken the step of filing a class action lawsuit on behalf of himself and all other Kia and Hyundai owners who drive a vehicle that lacks a critical security device.

The lawsuit was filed in Wisconsin’s Eastern District on Friday and names Kia America Inc. and Hyundai Motor America as defendants.

Milwaukee resident Cole Sebastian bought a 2018 Kia Forte in May of 2019. His car was stolen on July 3 while he was at a friend’s house. The car was found one day later in an alley near 43rd and Center Street. The car’s right back window was found broken and its ignition was ripped out. The car thieves also stole all of Sebastian’s work tools from the trunk of the Kia Forte.

The class action lawsuit seeks damages and injunctive relief on behalf of Sebastian and all other people who bought or leased a 2011-2022 Kia vehicle or a 2015-2022 Hyundai vehicle with a traditional “insert-and-turn” steel key ignition system. The amount in controversy exceeds $5 million.

The lawsuit explains these vehicles are not equipped with an immobilizer, which would prevent them from being started unless a code is transmitted from the vehicle’s specific smart key. The lack of an immobilizer makes specific makes of Hyundai and Kia vehicles “incredibly easy to steal,” the lawsuit states.

Milwaukee’s stolen car rate jumped 72% from 2020 to 2021, according to statistics from the National Insurance Crime Bureau.

“Viral videos on TikTok and YouTube give step-by-step instructions on how to steal Class Vehicles without a key, and reports of stolen Kia and Hyundai Vehicles have skyrocketed across the country,” reads the lawsuit.

The lawsuit alleges both Kia and Hyundai have violated several laws, including the Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act. Congress enacted the MMWA to protect consumers from deceptive warranty practices. The MWWA puts in place a civil liability on any company that fails to comply with any obligation under a written or corresponding implied warranty.

The lawsuit argues that Kia and Hyundai provided customers with an implied warranty when they purchased their vehicles. There was a reasonable expectation by consumers that the cars were fit for their ordinary purpose. By failing to put immobilizers in the vehicles, Kia and Hyundai breached this implied warranty.

“Recognizing the gravity of the problem, Defendants (Hyundai and Kia) have announced that all new model vehicles will be equipped with an immobilizer. But this change offers little consolation to the thousands of consumers whose defective vehicles remain vulnerable to theft,” reads the complaint.

A trial by jury is being requested for this case.

Hyundai announced last week that it is introducing a free anti-theft software upgrade to prevent the theft of vehicles without push-button ignitions. The technology has launched as a service campaign for a total of almost 4 million vehicles, with the upgrade rolling out first to more than 1 million model year 2017-2020 Elantra, 2015-2019 Sonata and 2020-2021 Venue vehicles.

“Hyundai is committed to ensuring the quality and integrity of our products through continuous improvement and is pleased to provide affected customers with an additional theft deterrent through this software upgrade,” said Randy Parker, chief executive officer of Hyundai Motor America. “We have prioritized the upgrade’s availability for owners and lessees of our highest selling vehicles and those most targeted by thieves in order for dealers to service them first.”

Kia has also developed a theft-deterrent software that the company will begin rolling out over the next several months.

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Ashley covers startups, technology and manufacturing for BizTimes. She was previously the managing editor of the News Graphic and Washington County Daily News. In past reporting roles, covering education at The Waukesha Freeman, she received several WNA awards. She is a UWM graduate. In her free time, Ashley enjoys watching independent films, tackling a new recipe in the kitchen and reading a good book.

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