St. Louis Sues Kia and Hyundai for Failure to Install Anti-Theft Technology

The City of St. Louis filed a lawsuit in the U.S. District Court, Eastern District of Missouri, against Kia America, Inc. and Hyundai Motor America, Inc., on Monday, March 27, 2023. The lawsuit concerns Kia and Hyundai’s alleged failure to install industry-standard anti-theft technology, “resulting in an explosion of auto-related crime.”

According to the complaint, Kia and Hyundai manufacture, market, distribute, and sell vehicles “lacking an anti-theft measure that has been standard issue in the auto industry for decades.” The City of St. Louis alleges that Kia and Hyundai’s “careless disregard for the safety of the public has created a public nuisance. . . taxing St. Louis’s resources, and jeopardizing the public health, safety, and peace of all who live, work, and visit St. Louis.” The complaint cites Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard 114, implemented by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (“NHTSA”) in April 1968. This safety standard “requires vehicle manufacturers to implement minimum theft-protection standards for nearly all vehicles within the United States.” The safety standard has been updated throughout the years but the purpose of the safety standard remains the same.

The complaint argues that engine immobilizers, “an electronic anti-theft device used to prevent a vehicle from being started unless a unique code is transmitted using the real owner’s key,” have been the industry-standard for decades, leading to a steep decline in car theft. The complaint cites a 2016 study from the Netherlands Department of Motor Vehicles showing a nearly 40 percent decrease in overall car theft from 1995-2008. The complaint also cites data published by NHTSA in 2017 showing a dramatic decrease in car theft. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety published data documenting the inclusion of engine immobilizers in 97 percent of all 2021 vehicles. The complaint states that up until the last year, Kia and Hyundai only offered immobilizers for their premium model lines, “putting their less-wealthy customers at greater risk.” In 2015, only 26 percent of Hyundai and Kia vehicles included engine immobilizers as standard equipment, compared to 96 percent of all other vehicle manufacturers.

Once the alleged safety defect became widely known, Kia and Hyundai car thefts spiked nationwide. In one year, St. Louis saw a 128% increase in the number of reported stolen vehicles. The St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department received more than 4,500 reports of stolen Kia and Hyundai vehicles since May of 2022. The St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department received reports of an average of over 23 Kia and Hyundai vehicles stolen every day during the summer and fall months of 2022. The complaint illustrates a number of crimes involving stolen Kias and Hyundais, including shootouts, a fatal hit and run, and property damage.

The complaint makes claims for: (1) public nuisance; (2) products liability based upon a theory of strict liability design defect; (3) products liability based upon theory of strict liability failure to warn; (4) products liability based upon theory of negligent liability design defect; and (5) products liability based upon theory of negligent liability failure to warn. The complaint seeks relief in the form of damages in excess of $75,000, attorneys’ fees, and punitive damages.

Additional Reading

St. Louis sues Kia, Hyundai over rash of car thefts, ABC News (March 27, 2023)

City of St. Louis Files Federal Lawsuit Against Kia, Hyundai for Automaker’s Failure to Install Industry-Standard Safety Technology, City of St. Louis (March 27, 2023)

City of St. Louis v.Kia America, Inc. et al (Case No. 4:2023cv00379)

Complaint in City of St. Louis v.Kia America, Inc. et al

There’s a hack that makes stealing Hyundai and Kia cars easier—and thieves are taking note, Fortune (September 22, 2022)

Photo Credit: Sean Pavone /