Louisville Metro Files Lawsuit Against Hyundai and Kia

October 12, 2023

Automakers fail to install industry-standard safety feature responsible for spike in car theft activity and has created a public nuisance, city alleges

Louisville Metro Government filed a federal lawsuit today against Hyundai and Kia as it seeks to hold the automakers accountable for placing profits over safety by manufacturing, distributing, and marketing cars that are dangerously easy to steal.

The city alleges in its complaint that Hyundai and Kia are responsible for the rash of auto thefts caused by their failure to include in these vehicles important, industry-standard anti-theft technology: engine immobilizers. Kias and Hyundais sold in Canada and Europe come equipped with engine immobilizers. And this technology has long been the industry standard in the United States as well. By 2015, 96% of automobiles from other manufacturers had immobilizers. Entry-and-mid level Kias and Hyundais are the exception. Only 26% of 2015-model year Hyundais and Kias included immobilizers, leaving almost 75% of these vehicles unreasonably easy to steal.

The Greenberg administration authorized the action in U.S. District Court, Central District of California, in consultation with Jefferson County Attorney Mike O’Connell. Louisville joins other major cities throughout the U.S., including New York City, Chicago, Seattle, Columbus, Cleveland and Indianapolis, that have filed similar litigation.

“Hyundai and Kia have cut corners, shifting part of the cost of their business onto Louisville and its citizens. This is contributing to our city’s public safety issues and, simply put, it is unacceptable,” said Mayor Greenberg. “We filed this lawsuit on behalf of Metro Government, our police department, and the people of Louisville who have dealt with these preventable crimes for far too long.”

As a result of their decisions, thefts of Hyundais and Kias have skyrocketed in Louisville. From January to July of 2023, Louisville recorded approximately 899 thefts of Hyundai vehicles—a 732% increase from the 108 Hyundai thefts recorded from January to July of 2022. Also from January to July of 2023, Louisville recorded 1,211 thefts of Kia vehicles—a 697% increase from the 152 stolen Kias reported for January to July of 2022.  The rampant rise in theft of Hyundais and Kias consumes and diverts vital law enforcement and emergency resources.

The thefts also pose significant threats to public safety because they go hand-in-hand with reckless driving and other crimes, which in turn results in injuries and death. In January 2023, an 18-year-old was killed in a hit-and-run crash involving a stolen white Hyundai. Several months later, a stolen Kia crashed into a daycare in west Louisville and, thankfully, no one was injured.

“Car thefts are a ‘keystone crime,’ meaning a crime which can facilitate other offenses, including burglary, robbery and homicide,” said Louisville Metro Police Department Chief Jackie Gwinn-Villaroel. “We’ve made great strides in Louisville to reduce violent crime, but car thefts and attempts to steal cars have noticeably increased, a trend seen nationally as well. This lawsuit is an important step in fixing this outlier to improve public safety.”

Thursday’s action is Louisville Metro’s latest filing intended to hold accountable large corporations whose actions have helped bring a negative impact to public health or safety and have caused the city to expend significant additional resources to abate these harms. These include lawsuits against opioid distributors and manufacturers, which have resulted in more than $57 million to date in settlement dollars directly to Louisville, and against JUUL and Altria for their roles in the significant increase of nicotine use and addiction by marketing and selling vape products as a safe alternative to cigarette smoking.

The city has hired two firms, Seattle-based Keller Rohrback L.L.P. and Louisville-based Poppe Law Firm, to assist the Jefferson County Attorney’s Office as outside counsel. The law firms take the case at no initial cost to taxpayers and would only receive payment if funds are recovered.

“Louisville takes this action today to force Hyundai and Kia to do what is right—fix the cars and address the effects of the crime wave,” said County Attorney O’Connell. “These companies’ failure to install common anti-theft technology in the first place has caused these harms.”

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