— Missouri Hyundai Elantra owner Gabrielle Lawton alleges she was shot in the chest because her Hyundai wasn't equipped with an engine immobilizer.
According to the lawsuit, an engine immobilizer protects against vehicle theft because the engine won't start unless it detects a key fob in the car.
"The immobilizer has the correct encryption key to unlock your key fob. And once it unencrypts the data, the immobilizer looks and sees if there’s a match. If there is a match, the car starts." — Gabrielle Lawton lawsuit
The lawsuit alleges the "absence of ignition immobilizers violates Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard 114."
The plaintiff asserts she went to her kitchen the night of April 28, 2023, to get a bottle of milk for her newborn child. The plaintiff says she heard voices outside in the driveway and saw people trying to steal her Hyundai Elantra.
Lawton contends she yelled out the window to scare away the thieves, but the plaintiff was shot in the chest. She was rushed to an emergency room, but the bullet remains "lodged in her chest near her right lung close to an artery."
The plaintiff blames Hyundai because the vehicle lacks an immobilizer.
Although millions of Hyundai and Kia vehicles have lacked immobilizers since 2011, the vehicles have never been on the "most stolen" lists until 2022 because it wasn't until 2021 that videos appeared online.
The videos showed how criminals could break out a window, destroy the steering column and use a screwdriver and USB cable to start the vehicle.
Teenage criminals posted videos online which "challenged" other criminals to steal Hyundai and Kia vehicles, recording and posting their own videos online.
The lawsuit alleges the thefts are caused by a lack of engine immobilizers which allowed Hyundai to save money. The plaintiff contends an immobilizer could have been added for less than $200 per vehicle.
NHTSA: Engine Immobilizers Not Required
Though the lawsuit alleges the lack of an immobilizer violates federal safety laws, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration recently disagreed in a letter to about 20 state attorneys general.
The attorneys general signed a formal letter to NHTSA by alleging about 8 million Hyundai and Kia vehicles should be recalled due to a lack of engine immobilizers.
However, in letters to the state attorneys general, the government said there is nothing defective or illegal about the Hyundai and Kia vehicles.
In its response, NHTSA says engine immobilizers are not required in the U.S. and federal safety standard 114 does not require an immobilizer.
"Also, the test procedure specified in that standard does not contemplate actions taken by criminal actors to break open or remove part of the steering column and take out the ignition lock to start a vehicle." — NHTSA
In addition, federal safety regulators described where the safety risk comes from regarding the Hyundai and Kia thefts.
"Here, the safety risk arises from unsafe use of a motor vehicle by an unauthorized person after taking significant destructive actions to parts of the vehicle." — NHTSA
Because of numerous lawsuits, including class actions, Hyundai and Kia created a free update for the vehicles without immobilizers. However, this has not stopped the teenage criminals from damaging the vehicles.
Some owners say they intentionally purchased 2023 Hyundai or Kia models because they are equipped with immobilizers, but it did nothing to prevent thieves from breaking into the vehicles.
Owners have reported criminals still targeted the 2023 models, at the minimum causing destroyed windows and steering columns.
The Gabrielle Lawton lawsuit was filed in the Superior Court of the State of California, County of Orange: Gabrielle Lawton v. Hyundai Motor America, Inc., et al.
The plaintiff is represented by TLO Law.
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