Rochester plans suit targeting Kia, Hyundai

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Rochester is suing Kia America Inc. and Hyundai Motor America Inc. in an effort to take the automakers to task over their failure to install devices that could have prevented an epidemic of thefts of both companies’ vehicles.

Rochester Mayor Malik Evans today announced plans for the city to file a lawsuit targeting both companies. The city has hired the Seattle-based Keller Rohrback law firm as outside counsel to press the claim.

Vehicles manufactured by both companies before 2021 that have traditional key-operated ignition as opposed to fob-operated keyless entry systems can be easily started by means of a USB cable. That vulnerability sparked a TikTok challenge that has spurred a rash of thefts by teens in Rochester and across the country.

In the early days of the TikTok challenge, Kia and Hyundai charged owners of vulnerable vehicles to retrofit the cars with anti-theft devices. Later, the companies handed out steering wheel clubs. In February, both companies started offering free software updates that prevent USB starts. Such efforts, says Evans, came too late.

The mayor notes that other car manufacturers forestalled such problems by factory installing immobilizers. But Kia and Hyundai, to save money, “knowingly made, marketed and distributed these cars with serious security flaws and … failed to move quickly to solve the problem.”

In the first three months of this year, Rochester has seen a nearly 2400 percent rise in Kia and Hyundai thefts, going from 32 in the first quarter of 2022 to 752 in the same period this year. In many cases, thieves take the stolen vehicles for joyrides, abandoning them and often leaving them damaged. Break-ins and property thefts from Kias and Huyandais in the city have also skyrocketed, going from 97 in the first quarter of 2022 to 326 in the first three months of 2023.

The 752 thefts of Kias and Huyandais this year compares to 274 thefts of all other makes combined. The more than 1,000 vehicles of all makes stolen in the city so far this year compares to a total of 387 of all makes last year, including 18 Kias and 14 Hyundais. Of 20 smash-and-grab burglaries using cars committed in the city this year, 19 involved stolen Kias or Hyundais, says David Smith, Rochester chief of police.

Smith says Rochester police have made some 60 arrests of Kia and Hyundai thieves including the arrest of a single youth charged with eight such thefts in the county including five in the city. Roughly half of the city car-theft arrests have been of teens.

Evans says he finds himself “especially frustrated because these cars are affordable and they are popular among people who can least afford to lose time from work because their means of transportation has disappeared for a dangerous joyride.”

Meanwhile, says Evans, the problem remains “out of control and its costs should not be borne by the city, our residents or our businesses and all the individuals who bought Kias and Hyundais and probably thought they would have 21st century anti-theft technology.”

To be filed in the federal Central District of California, where the Korean auto makers—Hyundai has a controlling stake in Kia, but they operate separately—have their U.S. headquarters, the court action is expected to be filed within the week.

The Rochester suit parallels similar complaints being filed by eight other cities. Other municipal plaintiffs in the initial group are Buffalo, San Diego, Seattle, Milwaukee, Cleveland, Cincinnati and Columbus, Ohio. Keller Rohrback is handling all of the cases, which are to be coordinated in a multijurisdictional effort.

Rochester corporation counsel Linda Kingsley predicts that other U.S. cities will follow suit.

Will Astor is Rochester Beacon senior writer. The Beacon welcomes comments and letters from readers who adhere to our comment policy including use of their full, real name. Submissions to the Letters page should be sent to [email protected]

6 thoughts on “Rochester plans suit targeting Kia, Hyundai

  1. Some of the solutions is to lower the age for criminal prosecution, bring back bail requirements, more police, reduce early release, more jails, more jail time, etc. That will solve much of the problem.

  2. By the way, I don’t know who the sales and marketing individual is who sold this law suit opportunity to the Mayor, but it goes to show you, prove to you that some people are so incredibly skilled in their profession that the can “sell a refrigerator to and Eskimo”. The attorney wins again.

  3. Perfectly reasonable lawsuit. No different than the government suits against Big Tobacco where the purpose was to determine to what extent the tobacco companies were aware that their product was cancer-causing and how long they’d suppressed that knowledge to the detriment of consumers. Likewise the suit against Kia and Hyundai will hopefully discover if and when the auto makers were aware of their cars’ vulnerability to theft, why they failed to notify consumers of the potential problem and offer a fix, and what, if any, actions they took to redesign the cars to correct the problem.

  4. Far right sarcasm about people who “steel” not being held responsible for what they “steel” aside, this case could be similar to those against the tobacco companies where the feds claimed that the companies knew their product was deadly and declined to tell their customers. If Kia and/or Hyundai knew their cars could be stolen by any kid with a screwdriver and did nothing to warn consumers or fix the problem, then they should be held responsible, along with those who “steel” their cars.

    • I just went over and reread some of the answers. Micheal, your assessment of justification for stealing anything is to excuse those who do and place the blame on others. You appear to be avoiding the mental mindset that looks to steal, to rob, to destroy. There in lies the problem and you are part of the problem by giving them a pass. Kinda sad.

  5. I don’t have to read the above. If you leave your home, your car or your chicken coup unlocked and someone trespasses and steels something…’s your fault. You see all is fair game to take as the opportunity presents itself. It’s not the deranged or the trespassers that are the problem….it’s those who allow the opportunity for them to steel and destroy things. Huh…have we gone totally off the rails?! If a person steels something and gets away with it, it’s OK. It’s up to the potential or eventual victim to make sure that those who will trespass, steel and destroy your property to make sure its burglar proof. TikTok provides the know how to allow those who steel and the car company gets the blame. Get rid of TikTok, or at the very least sue them. They are the originator of the problem.

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