New Life for Georgia Car Accident Safety Lawsuits


May 20, 2011

When a state law conflicts with a federal law, the federal law prevails. This principle is referred to as the doctrine of preemption.

It is based on Article VI Section 2 of the U.S. Constitution and is designed so states cannot pass laws that undermine the goals and policies of the Federal government. When it comes to civil lawsuits, preemption means that federal law preempts lawsuits based on state law claims, such as negligence or failure to warn.

There are two types of preemption: express and implied.

  • Express Preemption: This term applies when a federal law expressly states that it is intended to preempt state law.
  • Implied Preemption: When a court decides that even though the federal law doesn't explicitly state that it preempts state law, it nevertheless does preempt state law.

There are pros and cons to preemption. For auto manufacturers, it makes it easier because it means there are only one set of rules or standards in their industry that they need to follow. The cons for citizens are that they can't sue an automaker or other business based on a state law claim, even when the business is clearly violating state law. Preemption typically is more likely to benefit a business that is trying to avoid liability.

The landscape for preemption is changing due in part to a recent Supreme Court's ruling in Williamson v. Mazda. The court ruled unanimously that Federal Motor Carrier Safety (FMCS) regulations related to seatbelts do not preempt a state tort lawsuit in which a passenger in a rear inner seat equipped only with a lap belt, instead of a shoulder and lap belt, was killed in an automobile crash.

This ruling is going to make it harder for attorneys representing automakers to defend this type of product liability auto accident lawsuit on the standard of implied preemption. It is probably going to be almost impossible for car manufacturers to use this defense in automobile safety cases in the future.

Federal motor vehicle regulations require that automakers meet minimum safety standards in their cars. Mazda argued that it complied with these standards and that these standards give them an option to choose what seatbelts they put in their cars. The court disagreed and found that the choice was not a significant objective of the federal regulation. In reality, automakers are encouraged to exceed the standards that are set out as the federal minimum standards. By putting only lap belts in the backseat of the automobile in the accident involved in the Williamson case, a person was killed. If Mazda had installed full shoulder and lap belts in the car, there is a good possibility that the person would have had a greater chance of survival.

Some choices made in the auto industry as far as meeting standards are based on cost. Now automakers will have an incentive to go beyond minimum federal standards when making design and safety decisions. The courts will have to rethink cases against automakers involving things like side airbags, roof crush, handling and stability, and window glazing. This new ruling means that it may be easier to prevail in product liability lawsuits against automakers that cut corners on safety equipment merely because they complied with minimum federal safety standards.

If you have been seriously injured or someone you love has suffered wrongful death caused by a safety defect in an automobile, you may be entitled to compensation for your injuries. At the law firm of Montlick and Associates, we have been representing those injured in Atlanta car accidents and car accidents throughout Georgia for over 27 years. Our knowledgeable and experienced Atlanta car accident lawyers will fight for your best interests. The Atlanta auto accident law firm of Montlick and Associates is available to assist clients throughout all of Georgia and the Southeast, including but not limited to Albany, Athens, Atlanta, Augusta, Columbus, Gainesville, Macon, Marietta, Rome, Roswell, Savannah, Smyrna, Valdosta, Warner Robins and all smaller cities and rural areas in the state. No matter where you are located our attorneys are just a phone call away, and we will even come to you. Call us 24 hours a day/7 days a week for your Free Consultation at 1-800-LAW-NEED (1-800-529-6333). You can also visit us online at www.montlick.com and use our Free Case Evaluation Form or 24-hour Live Online Chat.

Category: Auto Accidents

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Many of our blog articles discuss the law. All information provided about the law is very general in nature and should not be relied upon as legal advice. Every situation is different, and should be analyzed by a lawyer who can provide individualized advice based on the facts involved in your unique situation, and a consideration of all of the nuances of the statutes and case law that apply at the time.