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Tourists sue Kia for car that caused fire, injuries

By Kristen Consillio

Posted August 14, 2019

Jordan Carlton was visiting Oahu on June 30 when the 2019 Kia Soul rental car he was driving suddenly burst into flames on the H-3 freeway, burning almost his entire body and severely injuring his mother, who leaped from the moving vehicle to survive.

The 33-year-old Oklahoma native, who is still fighting for his life at Straub Medical Center, and his parents, Robert and Becky Carlton, are suing Kia Motors America Inc. as well car rental company Avis Budget Group Inc. for causing “excruciating pain and suffering” and severe injuries and disability due to an engine defect that is the subject of thousands of fires in Kia and Hyundai vehicles nationwide. Doctors in July gave Carlton, who has third- and fourth-degree burns from his neck to his toes, a 1% chance of survival. All his fingers and most of his toes have been amputated, and his skin is slowly being transplanted to avoid further blood infections.

“He’s still fighting. Every day’s a victory. He has blood infections, which is not uncommon because he has no skin. His skin is gone,” said his father at a news conference at their Honolulu attorney Rick Fried’s office. “It’s just horrific. Just the least little movement, you can see the grimace on his face. It’s pain.”

Becky Carlton, 56, suffered burns, road rash, bleeding in her brain and complete hearing loss in her right ear but is slowly recovering.

“The horrible thing about this … is Kia knew of this fire problem that occurred spontaneously,” said Fried, who filed the complaint Tuesday in 1st Circuit Court, adding that he spoke to the attorney of a whistleblower who worked as a safety engineer at Kia’s Irvine, Calif., headquarters. The whistleblower brought the spontaneous fire issue to the company’s attention a couple of years ago, Fried said. The problem involves high pressure in the fuel line that can cause leaks under cars, he said.

Since it was brought to the company’s attention, “there have been hundreds and hundreds if not thousands (of fires),” Fried said.

A Kia spokesman told the Honolulu Star-Advertiser that the company couldn’t comment on pending litigation.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration earlier this year opened two investigations into Hyundai and Kia vehicles after getting complaints of more than 3,100 fires and 103 injuries.

One death was reported involving a Kia vehicle, according to The Associated Press. Hyundai and

Kia said in statements that they’re cooperating with the investigations and have been open and transparent.

Engine failure and fire problems with Hyundais and Kias have affected more than 6 million vehicles since 2015. The investigations cover noncrash spontaneous fires in nearly 3 million vehicles from the affiliated Korean automakers including the 2011 through 2014 Hyundai Sonata and Santa Fe, the 2011 through 2014 Kia Optima and Sorento, and the 2010 through 2015 Kia Soul. Hyundai and Kia have recalled about 2.4 million vehicles to fix problems that can cause fires and engine failures. In addition, the automakers are installing software in another 3.7 million vehicles that will alert drivers of possible engine failures and send the cars into a reduced-speed mode if problems are detected.

“If you’ve got children you can imagine how horrible it’s been to see your son laying in a hospital

bed in that kind of condition. But we’re a family of faith, and we believe that God’s in control of this situation,” Robert Carlton said.

Carlton said he wants Kia to fix the problem before someone else gets hurt.

“Normal has got to change for Kia,” he said. “There’s not another family in the United States of America that should have to go through what our family is going through and is going to have to go through for years to come. It angers me to know that people are driving vehicles and they’re unaware of the danger that they’re putting themself and their families in driving these vehicles, and nothing is being said and surely nothing’s being done.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.