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N.J. appeals court rules for Kia Sephia owners, reversing trial court judge in $6.33M brakes class action


By Chandra Lye | Jul 24, 2018

TRENTON, N.J. (Legal Newsline) – Owners of a Kia Sephia model vehicle are entitled to financial compensation due to a faulty brake system, the Superior Court of New Jersey Appellate Division decided.

On July 18, the court ordered a reversal of a trial judge’s decision, reinstating the jury’s award.

“With the advantage of recent case law unavailable to the trial judge, we now reverse, reinstate the jury award and remand for determination of counsel fees,” the court decision stated.   

The case began in 2001 when New Jersey resident Regina Little purchased a Sephia only to have numerous issues with the braking system. 

“She testified that for the three years she owned the car, a set of brakes lasted no more than six to seven months,” the court order stated. 

Little filed a lawsuit in June 2001 and class action status was granted in August 2003.

“After a month-long trial, in June 2008 the jury returned a verdict finding that defendant had breached the express and implied warranties as well as the (Magnuson-Moss Warranty Improvement Act), but that it had not violated the (New Jersey Consumer Fraud Act),” the court opinion stated.

“Regina Little proved at a jury trial that the Sephia, model years 1997 through 2000, had a defective front brake system, which caused premature brake pad and rotor wear. Concluding that the defect amounted to a breach of express and implied warranties, and that all owners had suffered damage due to the defect, the jury awarded each member of the class $750 ($6.3 million total) in repair damages.”

“Raymond King, plaintiff's expert in mechanical engineering and repair damages, explained that when a driver presses the brakes, hydraulic pressure forces brake fluid into a brake caliper, which causes the brake pads to squeeze against the rotors and decrease the spinning of the wheel. The pressure of the brake pads against the rotors causes friction, which produces heat. The hotter the brake system becomes, the faster the brake pads and rotors wear,” the opinion states.

The expert concluded that "the Sephia's front brake system had a systemic design defect that did not allow for the proper dissipation of heat,” the court wrote

There were about 8,455 Sephias sold in New Jersey between 1997 and 2000 and more than 42,000 sold nationwide, according to the court opinion. 

“The warranty claim rate nationally for that model's brakes was 92 percent,” the opinion states.

A technical services bulletin was released by Kia Motors Corp. in January 2002. Vehicle owners were given newly designed brake pads and rotors. 

However, the plaintiff’s mechanical expert indicated the new pads did not last more than 14,000 or 15,000 miles. 

He “estimated an owner would incur 10 brake repairs over the life of the car, doubling the normal repair expense due to the defective brake system. As a result, the owner would incur $1,250 in additional repair expenses (five times $250) due to the defective brake system.”

Kia replaced the Sephia model with the Spectra in 2002, which was basically the same vehicle with an updated brake system.   

Following the jury decision, an issue was raised that each class member could not be awarded the lump sum as not each vehicle owner suffered the same amount of repair costs. Thus a trial court granted summary judgment for Kia, decertified the class for purposes of damages and awarded a new trial for repair damages.

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