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Man severely burned in Hawaii rental car fire files suit

Star Advertiser

By Leila Fujimori

Posted July 1, 2020

Doctors gave Jordan Carlton a 1% chance of surviving burns to nearly his entire body after the rented 2019 Kia Soul he was driving burst into flames spontaneously on the H-3 freeway.

Despite the odds, the 34-year-old Oklahoma Spanish teacher remains alive, hospitalized at the Parkland Burn Center in Dallas, and Tuesday marked one year since that horrific day.

Carlton’s medical bills continue to mount, averaging $1.2 million every month, and the tally as of June 4 was $13.2 million, his lawyer Rick Fried said Tuesday.

His doctors say “they’ve never seen someone fight so hard,” Fried said, adding that “he is very slowly making incremental progress.”

Fried said Carlton had been a marathon runner, placed top five in his class at the University of Oklahoma and holds a master’s degree in Spanish.

Carlton is still undergoing burn debridement to remove burned skin, a procedure that is “excruciatingly painful,” Fried said.

On June 30, 2019, Carlton and his mother, Becky, who were visiting from Calvin, Okla., were headed to a beach on the Windward side of Oahu in their rental vehicle when they realized the car was on fire.

The brakes had gone out as Carlton tried to stop the burning car, and flames began to consume the passenger compartment where his mother was seated, a lawsuit filed Aug. 3o by the family said.

Becky Carlton managed to leap out of the moving car, and suffered significant burns and injuries.

Her 33-year-old son amazingly managed to walk away from the burning car, Fried said.

“That was the last time his feet touched the ground,” said Fried, who showed photos of how Carlton looks today, saying his skin “looks like raw steak,” and he has lost most of his fingers and toes. He also requires feeding tubes, plus a tracheotomy collar to help him breathe, and is on dialysis.

His doctors say he has third-degree burns covering 90% of his body. His doctor at Straub Hospital calculated, using a formula that took into account his age and how much of his body was burned, that he had a 1% chance of surviving.

Carlton’s parents, Becky and Robert Carlton, left their business to another son and moved to Texas to be with their son at Parkland Hospital, taking turns to stay with him in 12-hour shifts. With the COVID-19 pandemic in March, they were not allowed to be with him, but recently that changed.

The Carltons are suing Kia Motors America, Avis Rent A Car and Budget Rent A Car in 1st

Circuit Court, alleging design, manufacturing and warning/instruction defects, negligent design and failure to warn, negligent rental, breach of implied warranty and for punitive damages and unfair trade practices and liability.

Kia Motors America told the Honolulu Star-Advertiser in August that it will recall more vehicles if a second investigation finds that an engine defect caused the Soul in this case to catch fire.

Fried said the company is now asking for a third investigation.

By the time the accident had occurred, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) had already opened two investigations in 2019 after receiving complaints of more than 3,100 fires, 103 injuries and one death.

NHTSA’s website shows there are currently 11 investigations.

A consumer watchdog organization, the Center for Auto Safety, demanded a recall of 2.9 million vehicles including the 2011-2014 Kia Sorento, Kia Optima, Hyundai Sonata, Hyundai Santa Fe and 2010-2015 Kia Soul.

The lawsuit says there were hundreds of noncollision fires in Kia and Hyundai vehicles related to their “gasoline direct injection” engine design developed by Hyundai and Kia.

Fried said he is pushing for a recall of the 2019 Kia Soul. There have been recalls for the 2011-2016 models, but NHTSA is continuing to investigate this incident, and its website shows there have been no recalls on the 2019 Kia Soul.

He urges anyone who owns a Kia or a Hyundai to have it looked at because of the number of cases involving not just the Soul, but other models as well.

Trial is set for Feb. 8.