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Resolution calls on Cleveland mayor, city to sue Kia and Hyundai over surging thefts

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Posted at 11:13 PM, Feb 27, 2023

CLEVELAND — A nationwide surge in stolen Kia and Hyundai vehicles is gaining attention at Cleveland City Hall. At Monday’s city council meeting, a resolution called on the mayor’s administration to file suit against the manufacturers for the burden the thefts are having on the city.

“It’s become laughable how easy it is to steal these cars. And at this point, I’d say it’s a manufacturer’s defect,” said resolution sponsor Ward 13 Council Member Kris Harsh.

The resolution says the number of insured Kias and Hyundais stolen in Cuyahoga County jumped more than 233% from October to December.

Holly Ausnehmer’s 2021 Kia Sportage was among the 459 of the two makes of cars stolen in December 2022.

“I got off work about 4:30. I came outside and unfortunately it was missing,” she recalled.

The car was missing for 10 days before police recovered it on the city’s west side. The alleged thieves broke the vehicle’s rear window and removed the steering column. Both are hallmarks of a trend fueled by a TikTok video demonstrating how to bypass Kia and Hyundai ignition systems.

Most dealerships and mechanics told Ausnehmer the replacement parts for both types of vehicle were in high demand and repairs could take weeks or months.

“That’s when I found out how big it was. I didn’t even realize how bad it was at that point, about how bad the Kias and Hyundais were being stolen,” she said.

Her mother drives an identical vehicle. In mid-January, it too was targeted by thieves.

“It was just really hard to sit there and take it all in. It’s your baby and you worked really hard for that,” Ausnehmer said.

In addition to the frustration experienced by theft victims, Harsh said it’s been a burden for the city’s law enforcement.

“The police are already stretched kind of thin. So taking them away from other crime because of this is a distraction from other Clevelanders’ safety,” Harsh said. “Somebody emailed me and said, ‘Well why aren’t we going after the car thieves?’ I said, ‘We are.’ We’re spending a lot of police hours going after the car thieves. And if we could actually prevent them from being stolen in the first place, that would save the city a lot of money.”

Other cities, including Columbus, have filed similar lawsuits against the manufacturers. Case Western Reserve University law professor Andrew Pollis said it’s still uncommon for local governments to sue corporations.

“I can only liken it to the opioid cases that the cities and counties across the country alleging public nuisance,” Pollis said.

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Those corporations settled the lawsuits before they advanced through appellate courts. Pollis believes a similar outcome is unlikely with the auto manufacturers, but a class action lawsuit may have more success.

“I anticipate that when the dust settles, we will have reached a conclusion that this is just not an appropriate way to regulate industry,” he explained. “Every customer suffered a similar type of injury. It's not a difficult thing to resolve on a classwide basis. That's the kind of economic pressure that comes from litigation that would be appropriate here.”

Ausnehmer hopes there will be some accountability and solutions to the rampant thefts.

“No car should be that easy to steal. That is ludicrous to me,” she said.

The resolution introduced Monday is a first step towards pursuing a possible lawsuit. Harsh explained the logistics and details of such a suit would require vetting from the law director and a council committee.

Mayor Justin Bibb’s administration told News 5 it is taking the surging thefts seriously and is actively exploring all options.

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