SCOTUS To Consider Seatbelt Preemption Case

The United States Supreme Court has agreed to consider whether the family of a woman killed in a car accident should be permitted to bring suit against Mazda Motor Corp. alleging that the death was caused by the failure of Mazda to install three-point seatbelts in its 1993 MPV minivan.

Here are the questions presented in the case:

1.  Where Congress has provided that compliance with a federal motor vehicle safety standard “does not exempt a person from liability at common law,” 49 U.S.C. § 30103(e), does a federal minimum safety standard allowing vehicle manufacturers to install either lap-only or lap/shoulder seatbelts in certain seating positions preempt a state common-law claim alleging that the manufacturer should have installed a lap/shoulder belt in one of those seating positions?

2.  Under Wyeth v. Levine, does a federal motor vehicle safety standard allowing vehicle manufacturers to install either lap-only or lap/shoulder seatbelts impliedly preempt a state tort suit alleging that the manufacturer should have warned consumers of the known dangers of a lap-only seatbelt installed in one of its vehicles?

The Court of Appeals of California would not let the case proceed, saying that the Williams’ claims were preempted under federal law.  Here is a copy of the California opinion.

The Williams v. Mazda M otor Corp. case will be heard during the Supreme Court’s 2010-2011 term.