Federal Preemption Auto Safety Case To US Supreme Court; Williamson v. Mazda Motor of America, Inc.

In a closely watched case involving federal preemption of product defect claims that a minivan was defective because its aisle seat lacked a lap/shoulder seat-belt, Williamson v. Mazda Motor of America, Inc., is angling its way to the Supreme Court. Williamson seeks to hold Mazda responsible for the death of Thanh Williamson, who was killed in a head-on collision in her family car, a 1993 Mazda minivan.

The Mazda minivan that Williamson was riding was equipped with lap/shoulder harness seat-belts except for the rear aisle seat where she was seated at the time of the crash. All of the other passengers in the van survived the incident. They were all harness seat-belted.

The United States has filed an amicus brief in support of the Williamson family, arguing that the lower courts have misread a similar Supreme Court case decided in 2000, Geier v. American Honda Motor Co, and that the family should be allowed to pursue their product liability case to its end.

The Williamson family had filed its lawsuit in state court against Mazda asserting state tort claims, including product liability and negligence. The complaint alleged that Williamson’s seat should have been equipped with a lap/shoulder belt to restrain her upper torso in the event of a front end crash.

Mazda argued that the parents’ claims were preempted by the Federal Motor Vehicle
Safety Standard-Standard 208-that gave Mazda the choice of installing either the lap-only or lap/shoulder seat-belts in the rear-center seats of cars and in the rear aisle seats of minivans.

The briefs filed maintain that to resolve this confusion of decisions the Supreme Court should limit preemption to circumstances where Congress has expressly stated that state law should be preempted, or where the state law claim would directly contradict a specific federal law.

There is no time table for when the Supreme Court will hear arguments and decide this important case.

Kreisman Law Offices has been handling Illinois product liability lawsuits for over 30 years, serving those areas in and around Cook County, including Evanston, Downers Grove, Skokie, and Schaumburg.

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