Stepping back from its previous ruling in Geier v. American Honda Motor Company that the automaker could not be sued for car products liability because, at the time, federal safety regulations considered the installation of air bags optional, the US Supreme Court, inWilliamson v. Mazda Motor of America, is now saying that this type of auto defect lawsuit—involving the car part chosen by the manufacturer—can proceed.
The family of Thanh Williamson claims that Mazda’s failure to install a lap-and-shoulder belt in the rear middle seat of the 1993 minivan caused her wrongful death. Williams was wearing only a lap belt when she died in a 2002 car crash. While Mazda says that it should be immune from their seat belt defect lawsuit because federal safety regulations allowed it to choose which type of seat belt to install in certain rear seats, the US Supreme Court says that unlike in the Geier case, when regulators were still uncertain about the effectiveness of air bags, in the Williamson case, even though automakers had been given the option of which seat belt to install, there was no doubt even back then that a lap-and-shoulder belt was safer for passengers than a lap belt.
To give you a sense of how the high court’s ruling is paving the way for other auto products liability complaints that previously may not have stood a chance, this week, it ruled that Priester v. Ford Motor Co. should also get another day in court. The South Carolina Supreme Court had dismissed the car window defect case also on the grounds that federal regulations preempt the lawsuit.
James Lloyd’s mom contends that her son may not have been fatally thrown from the vehicle of the 1997 F-150 pickup truck he was riding in during the 2002 rollover crash if only Ford had used laminated side windows rather than tempered glass ones. Federal safety regulations allowed for either option.
Suit Against Ford to Be Reconsidered, The Wall Street Journal, February 28, 2011
Mazda Seatbelt Lawsuit Prompts U.S. Supreme Court Appeal for Claims Shield, Bloomberg, November 1, 2010
With Williamson v. Mazda Motor of America, our auto products liability lawyers hope that more plaintiffs will be able to obtain the personal injury and wrongful death recovery that they are owed.