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Recent Supreme Court Decision Means State Product Liability Suits Can Continue

On Behalf of | Jun 30, 2011 | Products Liability

The family of a woman killed in a head-on collision can sue Mazda, the manufacturer of the van she was riding in, after the Supreme Court held that some state tort suits are not preempted by federal auto safety standards. Many have hailed the Court’s decision in Williamson v. Mazda Motor of America, Inc. as a victory for consumers’ right to bring automobile defect suits, which often play a meaningful role in improving product safety.

The Facts of Williamson

In 2002, Thanh Williamson was traveling with her family in their 1993 Mazda van when another driver struck them head-on. Delbert and Alexa Williamson, both of whom were wearing lap-and-shoulder belts, survived. Unfortunately, Thanh, who was sitting in a rear aisle seat, was only wearing a lap belt and she died in the accident.

The Williamson family sued Mazda in California, claiming that Mazda should have installed lap-and-shoulder belts in the van’s rear aisle seats. The California court dismissed the suit, finding that federal regulations allowed the installation of either lap-and-shoulder or lap-only seat belts. Mazda was, therefore, allowed to choose which belts to install in its vans and this choice preempted the Williamsons’ lawsuit. The decision was upheld by the California Court of Appeal.

The Court’s Decision

The Supreme Court reversed the California decision, finding that the federal regulatory scheme did not preempt the state law claim. Unlike earlier cases, where the Court found that federal regulations which gave auto manufacturers the choice of installing air bags or other safety systems did, in fact, preempt state law claims, the Court held that the regulations here provided no such choice. The Court did not decide whether Mazda was at fault for installing lap-only seat belts, but its decision means that lawsuits over the issue can continue.

Contact an Attorney

If you or someone you love has been injured in a car accident, contact an experienced personal injury attorney. A knowledgeable personal injury lawyer can assess your case and help you get the compensation for your injuries you deserve. For more information, contact an attorney today.