Exploding sunroofs: Proposed class-action suit started against Hyundai Canada

A panoramic car sunroof. Getty Images

Hyundai is the target of a proposed class-action lawsuit related to alleged issues with vehicle sunroofs, Global News has learned.

The lawsuit, which hasn’t yet been certified as a class-action lawsuit, was initiated in December of 2016 by Calgary-based law firm Jensen Shawa Solomon Duguid Hawkes (JSS Barristers).

According to the statement of claim filed by JSS Barristers, Hyundai started selling cars equipped with large panoramic sunroofs, which span almost the entire length of the vehicle roofs, around 2011.

But “panoramic sunroofs lack proper stability and integrity, leaving them susceptible to spontaneous shattering under everyday driving conditions,” according to allegations in the document.

Hyundai is the car brand with the highest number of reports of shattering sunroofs in Canada, Global News has previously reported based on data obtained from Transport Canada. The Hyundai Santa Fe topped the charts for being the vehicle model with the most complaints of the same kind, numbers as of Oct. 16, 2017, showed.

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Hyundai is also the brand with the most such reports in the United States, according to Consumer Reports.

READ MORE: Exploding sunroofs: Complaints are soaring – here are the car brands and models involved

The proposed class-action suit focuses on the following vehicles if equipped with factory-installed or replacement panoramic sunroofs:

2013-2016 model year Hyundai Santa Fe Sport
2013-2016 model year Hyundai Santa Fe
2013-2016 model year Hyundai Elantra GT
2011-2016 model year Hyundai Sonata
2011-2016 model year Hyundai Tucson
2011-2016 model year Hyundai Veloster

Contacted by Global News, Hyundai Canada said it would not comment on ongoing legal matters. The allegations made in the statement of claim have not been proven.

WATCH: Transport Canada data reveals a sharp increase in the number of complaints about shattering vehicle sunroofs

Click to play video: 'Transport Canada reveals number of complaints regarding shattered sunroofs on vehicles'
Transport Canada reveals number of complaints regarding shattered sunroofs on vehicles

Alberta man is lead plaintiff

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The lawsuit names Lethbridge, Alta. resident Robert Engen as plaintiff. Engen, development manager at the University of Lethbridge, is the owner of a 2013 Hyundai Santa Fe whose panoramic sunroof shattered in August of last year, according to the statement of claim.

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“Shards of the glass from the Panoramic Sunroof fell all over the car, including the front seat, on Mr. Engen and his wife, and over the back seat, on the two child restraint systems located in the backseat of the vehicle, which, fortunately, were not occupied at the time of the incident,” reads the statement of claim.

“Mr. Engen’s wife sustained cuts and abrasions over her body,” the document continues.

The couple was driving home on Highway 519 after dropping off their girls, then aged four and seven, at their grandparents, in Nobleford, when they heard what sounded like a “gunshot,” Engen told Global News via phone.

The two were showered with tiny glass pieces from the sunroof and Engen’s wife, who was wearing short sleeves, sustained cuts on her arms, he added.

“It was definitely a spontaneous act,” said Engen, who said there were no nearby cars or projectiles that hit the roof of the vehicle.

READ MORE: Saskatoon woman pushes for vehicle recall after sunroof shatters

Engen was able to get the sunroof replaced at no cost at his local Hyundai dealership but has since been driving with the sunshield closed.

“We keep thinking ‘what if’,” said Engen. “What if we had been on a busy highway.”

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Or what if the kids, who had enjoyed looking at seagulls on the way to their grandparents, had still been in the backseat.

“It could have been much worse.”

WATCH: An increasing number of drivers has been calling for an investigation into exploding sunroofs, Tony Tighe reports.

Lawsuit alleges ‘defective panoramic sunroofs’

Sunroofs often shatter because of accidental damage. When a projectile, such as a rock, breaks the sunroof glass, this is meant to shatter into very small pieces, which pose a smaller danger to vehicle occupants than larger, sharp shards.

The majority of complaints of shattering vehicles sunroofs received by Transport Canada involved “breakage due to impact,” the agency previously told Global News.

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But manufacturing defects can also play a role, making sunroofs more susceptible to breakage upon impact or even prone to spontaneous shattering.

WATCH: ‘I thought the back window had been shot’: Driver describes sunroof exploding

Click to play video: '‘I thought the back window had been shot’: Driver describes sunroof exploding'
‘I thought the back window had been shot’: Driver describes sunroof exploding

The class-action file viewed by Global News alleges that panoramic sunroofs are coated in ceramic paint, which “significantly weakens the structural integrity and strength of the glass.”

The statement of claim references an investigation by the Korea Automobile Testing & Research Institute (KATRI), the Korean governmental automotive safety division, which concluded that “panoramic sunroofs were susceptible to shattering,” according to the document.

Transport Canada is also currently pursuing a defect investigation into shattering sunroofs in the 2013 Hyundai Santa Fe Sport model.

Hyundai said in comments provided to Global News for a previous article that it “tracks claims regarding broken panoramic sunroofs and, despite increasing the availability of the sunroofs across its product range, the frequency of claims relative to the high volume of products sold with the feature is very low.”

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“As always, Hyundai Auto Canada is fully supportive and cooperative of Transport Canada initiatives,” it said in reference to the investigation.

According to the lawsuit, Hyundai issued a limited recall of 2012 Veloster vehicles because damage during factory assembly might cause the panoramic sunroofs to break.

According to the lawsuit, the advisory note accompanying the recall read: “Sunroof glass panel breakage, while the vehicle is in motion, could cause driver distraction, which could result in a crash causing property damage and/or personal injury. Additionally, broken glass inside the vehicle poses a risk of injury to vehicle occupants.”

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