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Supreme Court Allows Defective Seat Belt Cases to Continue

| Apr 5, 2011 | Automobile Defects

In a recent decision, the U.S. Supreme Court addressed the following issue:  Can a person bring a lawsuit alleging inadequate seatbelt design even if the company complied with the federal seatbelt safety regulations?  The Court held that such claims were allowed and that compliance with federal standards did not excuse Mazda’s conduct.

This case concerned the tragic death in 2002 of Thanh Williamson.  Ms. Williamson was riding in the rear of a 1993 Mazda minivan wearing the lap belt, which was the only restraint available, when it was struck head on by another vehicle.  All other passengers in the van wearing combination lap/shoulder belts survived, but Ms. Williamson died as a result of her injuries.

Mazda argued that the lawsuit should have been dismissed because it complied with the Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard in effect at the time which allowed Mazda to pick either lap or lap and shoulder belts in some rear seats.

Ms. Williamson’s family argued that the Federal Regulations were merely minimum requirements, and that Mazda should have equipped the rear seats with lap and shoulder belts.  A common claim in this instance is that, regardless of the existence of Federal Standards discussing this issue, Mazda had a duty to equip their vehicles with lap and shoulder belts for all passengers in light of the age of the Federal Regulation and the extensive studies that show they are much safer.

Essentially, Ms. Williamson’s family claimed that Mazda knew, or should have known, that lap and shoulder belt combinations greatly increase the safety of their consumers and the company was negligent for failing to install them in all seats in the vehicle.

Read the Supreme Court opinion here:  Williamson v. Mazda, et al.

Read the New York Times article here:  Supreme Court Allows Lawsuit Over Rear Seat Belts

At the Brandi Firm, this issue regarding the meaning and scope of Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards is a common one.  More often than not a vehicle technically complies, but we believe that the standards represent the “floor” of compliance, or the absolute minimum required in order to sell cars in the United States.  These standards don’t change often, but technical and scientific advances are common with regard to auto safety, and we believe that automobile manufacturers should make sure their products are up to date and as safe as possible, regardless of the minimum standards.

In our experience, automobile defects can either cause accidents or fail to provide adequate safety measures to prevent serious injury or death.

Click here to learn more about the types of Automotive Defects