Thursday, October 7, 2010

Williamson v. Mazda Motor of America, Inc: a third torts case to watch before the Supreme Court

Ten years after the Supreme Court decided Geier v. American Honda Motor Co., the issue of preemption under National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s safety regulations is back before the Court. In Geier, the Court held (5 to 4) that a state claim against Honda was impliedly preempted by the federal law/regulations that gave automobile manufacturers the choice to use either seat belts or air bags in their cars. Now, in Williamson v. Mazda Motor of America, Inc., which will be argued in November, the Court has been asked to decide whether a federal safety standard allowing vehicle manufacturers to install either lap-only or lap/shoulder seatbelts in certain seating positions preempts a state common-law claim alleging that the manufacturer should have installed a lap/shoulder belt in one of those seating positions. For more on the case go to TortsProf, where guest blogger Catherine M. Sharkey, Professor of Law at New York University School of Law, has posted a very informative comment on the case. She concludes that "Williamson will narrow the reach of Geier implied obstacle preemption, but will not sound the death knell entirely..." For all the briefs, lower court opinions and other legal documents go here.

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