A lawsuit against Mazda is moving to the United States Supreme Court, reports Bloomberg, challenging whether automakers should have been required to install shoulder belts in all of its seats prior to current regulations requiring the improved belting systems took effect in 2007. The case centers on a 2002 accident in which Than Williams was killed when a Jeep Wrangler hit her family’s 1993 Mazda MPV. The Williams MPV had only lap belts because shoulder belts weren’t required by federal law until 2007. A California court has already barred the lawsuit from coming forward, arguing that federal regulations supersede any local rulings, and that then-legal seatbelts should protect manufacturers from personal injury liability. However a recent case casts some doubt on the precedents in the Mazda case…
The Supreme Court last year, ruling on preemption in a different context, said consumers can sue drugmakers for failing to provide adequate safety warnings. The 6-3 ruling said pharmaceutical companies aren’t shielded from suit by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s approval of a treatment and its packaging information.
In other words, if drug manufacturers can be liable for injury even if packaging complied with federal law, accident victims should be able to sue automoakers for injuries sustained in legally-compliant automobiles. But, if the SCOTUS rules with the Williams family, the auto industry worries that it could
face crushing liability in 50 states from 50 different systems
We’ll be sure to keep an eye on this case, as it clearly bears on a number of important safety issues in the industry right now, specifically the legal liability incurred by Toyota during its unintended acceleration scandal.