street. LOUIS — A nationwide class action lawsuit was settled this week by two auto manufacturers accused of an unprecedented wave of auto thefts that began last year in St. Louis and across the country.
Kia and Hyundai will pay more than $200 million for nearly 9 million vehicles that lack a standard anti-theft security device, which allows thieves to break into and drive off several car models in less than 90 seconds. The overall payout for auto manufacturers will depend on the number of eligible drivers who apply for reimbursement.
Owners can get up to $6,125 in out-of-pocket damages, including the total loss of their vehicle. They also qualify for up to $3,375 for personal property, insurance-related expenses, and other expenses such as replacement transportation.
Car owners can fill out a form at www.hbsslaw.com/cases/hyundai-kia-usb-car-theft-defect to determine if they qualify.
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Theft rates of Kyas and Hyundais exploded in the St. Louis area last year—a trend also seen nationally due to a viral TikTok video showing how several 2011-21 models broke into and drove off South Korean cars. Just a screwdriver and a USB charging cable. This method can be used on some models of those cars because the manufacturers have not installed engine mounts, an electrical anti-theft security device that prevents most vehicles from starting unless a code is sent from the vehicle’s smart key.
The increase in thefts put a strain on local resources, and police charged stolen vehicles with violent crimes including shootings and fatal strikes. St. Louis officials in March followed other municipalities around the country and filed a federal lawsuit, separate from the class action, against the manufacturers.
Erin McGowan, an associate counsel for the city of St. Louis, told the Post-Dispatch on Friday that she could not comment on the status of that lawsuit because the city could not discuss pending litigation.
As part of Thursday’s class action settlement, the software upgrade will be installed automatically when an eligible vehicle is brought into a dealership for any type of maintenance or repair, according to the four law firms representing plaintiffs in the case.
Only some Kia and Hyundai models are eligible for the upgrade. Car owners who don’t qualify but also don’t have an engine immobilizer can get up to $300 reimbursement to pay for installing a glass break alarm, other anti-theft systems, or a steering wheel lock.
“We believe this settlement provides comprehensive and welcoming class relief that will serve as a lesson to automakers not to overlook integrated core safety features,” Roland Tellis, an attorney at law firm Baron & Budd, said in a statement.
The two automakers, which are owned by the same parent company, said Thursday in a statement that they appreciated the opportunity to “provide additional support” to car owners.
The number of Kia and Hyundai vehicles stolen in St. Louis in 2022 (3,958) has surpassed the number of all vehicles stolen in 2021 (3,874). In all, 7,393 cars were reported stolen in 2022 in the city, a 91% increase over the previous year.
So far this year, rates have remained high in the St. Louis area but are down significantly from last year’s peak. St. Louis police reported 1,089 Kia and Hyundais stolen in the city through the end of April. This time last year, that number was 147, as thefts didn’t start to increase until May 2022.
Police linked the stolen cars to violent crimes, including shootings and fatal strikes, as well as damage to city property, including fire hydrants, street signs and traffic lights.
In response to St. Louis officials’ letter threatening a lawsuit, the companies insisted they were not responsible for the inflated rates of theft.
And as theft rates continue to rise, auto insurers are starting to take action as well. Late last year, Progressive and State Farm began refusing to open new policies on Kias and Hyundais altogether in some parts of the United States, including the St.
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