Kia Motors named in class action lawsuit over defective door locks in 2001-2006 Kia Optima vehicles

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Plaintiff brings this action against Kia Motors America, Inc. (“Kia” or “Defendant”) for injunctive, equitable, and declaratory relief on behalf of herself and all other similarly situated owners of 2001-2006 Kia Optima automobiles (“the Class Vehicles”).

Plaintiff  is the owner of a 2003 Kia Optima automobile who began experiencing difficulty with the door locking mechanism on the front driver and passenger doors.  At first, after unlocking the doors with the key fob, merely touching the door handle would trigger the doors to lock preventing ingress into the vehicle and necessitate a manual unlocking of the vehicle from the outside.  Concurrently, the Plaintiff was no longer able to unlock the doors from the inside of the vehicle and could only do so from the outside.  On more than one occasion, as a result of the Door Lock Defect, Plaintiff was locked into the vehicle and could only exit by climbing over the front seat into the back of the vehicle and exiting the rear door.  After having been trapped in the front of the vehicle, Plaintiff could no longer take the risk of locking her vehicle while driving.

Over the next few months, even manually unlocking the doors became increasingly more difficult until that too became impossible. Soon the plaintiff was unable to unlock her front doors by any method (i.e. using the FOB or manually) which meant that her vehicle could no longer be locked (either when driving or when it was parked and left alone).

At this point her Kia Optima posed an unreasonable safety hazard.   A vehicle door lock that will not unlock on demand poses a clear and definitive safety risk to vehicle occupants who may need to egress the vehicle quickly in the event of a crash, vehicle fire, or other emergent circumstance.   But defective Kia optima door locks failed to assure that this could happen, as their defective nature meant that, as in Plaintiff’s case, the door could not actually be unlocked and opened on demand.

The defect also led to a corollary safety risk.  On the one hand, Plaintiff could not lock her doors without running the risk of being trapped inside in the event of an accident or if she could not contort herself in order to climb over the seats and exit the rear of the vehicle. On the other hand, forcing Plaintiff to drive the vehicle without  locking the doors in order to account for the defective door locks that could trap her in the car poses its own independent safety concern.

For decades, U.S. Department of Transportation Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards (“FMVSS”) have mandated that all cars on U.S. roadways be equipped with working vehicle locks.  See FMVSS 206.   As the National Highway and Safety Administration (“NHTSA”) has made clear, the purpose in mandating operational door locks in U.S.-driven vehicles is “to minimize the likelihood of occupants being thrown from a vehicle as a result of impact.” NHTSA Test Procedure for FMVSS No. 206 “Door Locks and Door Retention Components” (Feb. 19, 2010), at 2.  It is quite apparent, then that a vehicle door lock that is not locked by the driver or vehicle occupants for fear that doing so will prevent these occupants from unlocking the doors, therefore, fails to provide the door lock protection mandated and called for by FMVSS 206, thereby posing a serious safety concern of its own.

Plaintiff is not alone.  As demonstrated below, the internet shows hundreds of Kia owners complaining about the same problem.  Indeed, approximately 34% of the complaints lodged by Kia Optima owners of Class Vehicles on the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (“NHTSA”) website were for this very Door Latch Defect.

Despite notice and knowledge of this defect from the numerous consumer complaints it has received, information received from dealers, NHTSA complaints, and its own internal records, Kia has not recalled the Class Vehicles to repair the defect, offered its customers a suitable repair or replacement free of charge, or offered to reimburse its customers who have incurred out of pocket expenses to repair the defect.  Upon information and belief, Defendant knew at the time of the original sale of Plaintiff’s vehicle of the existence of the Door Lock Defect but failed to disclose this defect to Plaintiff or to consumers of the Class Vehicles at large.

As a result of Defendant’s unfair, deceptive and/or fraudulent business practices, owners and/or lessees of Class Vehicles, including Plaintiff, have suffered an ascertainable loss of money and/or property and/or loss in value. The unfair and deceptive trade practices committed by Defendants were conducted in a manner giving rise to substantial aggravating circumstances.

Had Plaintiff and other Class members known about the Door Lock Defect at the time of purchase, they would not have bought the Class Vehicles, or would have paid substantially less for them.

As a result of the Door Lock Defect and the considerable monetary costs associated with attempting to repair such defect, Plaintiffs and Class members have suffered injury in fact, incurred damages and have otherwise been harmed by Kia’s conduct.