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Madison Common Council OKs lawsuit against Kia, Hyundai over car thefts

Madison was among cities that saw rash of thefts after videos circulated on social media showing how certain models could be hot-wired, city officials say

The interior of the Kia 2014 Forte5.
The interior of the Kia 2014 Forte5-Door car is presented during the media preview of the Chicago Auto Show at McCormick Place in Chicago on Thursday, Feb. 7, 2013. Nam Y. Huh/AP Photo

The city of Madison is preparing to sue Kia and Hyundai over a rash of car thefts.

The Madison Common Council approved a resolution Tuesday night that authorizes the city to hire a Seattle-based law firm to file a federal lawsuit.

That’s after videos circulated on social media showing how certain Kia and Hyundai models could be hot-wired using a USB cable. Since then, police in multiple communities, including Milwaukee, have reported spikes in thefts of those cars. In Madison, a full 45 percent of the vehicles stolen in July and August of 2022 were Kias or Hyundais, according to the city.

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Now, Madison officials are alleging the manufacturers are at least partly to blame because they failed to equip all their vehicles made between 2011 and 2021 with engine immobilizers and other standard anti-theft features. The spate of thefts has consumed police resources, cost taxpayers money and endangered the public, the resolution adopted by the Common Council alleges.

“The lawsuit is not simply, is not only about recovering those damages, but trying to make sure that the manufacturer does something to fix the problem,” Madison City Attorney Mike Hass said.

The resolution argues the thefts amounted to a public nuisance, which is a similar to arguments used by states and localities in class action lawsuits against opioid companies.

The city will contract with Keller Rohrback, LLP for the lawsuit. The firm will be paid on a contingency fee basis that will amount to 25 percent of any money Madison is awarded from the lawsuit, Hass said.

Keller Rohrback specializes in class action lawsuits, and is also representing the city of Seattle in a suit against Kia and Hyundai.

In response to the thefts, Kia and Hyundai are now offering free security software upgrades and sending free wheel locks to law enforcement agencies. That includes locks sent to the city of Madison, according to a Hyundai spokesperson.

“Potential lawsuits against Kia by municipalities are without merit,” a Kia representative said in a statement. “Kia has been and continues to be willing to work cooperatively with Mayor (Satya) Rhodes-Conway, the Madison Common Council, and law enforcement agencies in the city to combat car theft and the role social media has played in encouraging it.”