US Supreme Ct Allows Product Liability Suits Even if Manufacturer Complies with Safety Standards

In Williamson v. Mazda, the US Supreme Court has allowed the family of Than Williamson to pursue a products liability claim for wrongful death benefits against Mazda. An article by Fred Meier of USA Today, details that Williamson was a second row middle seat passenger in a 1993 Mazda MVP that was involved in a car accident. The plaintiff wants to hold Mazda liable for only having a lap belt in the middle seat and not a 3 point belt system. The plaintiff claims the lap belt caused the deceased’s body to jackknife around the belt causing her death. However, they contend this would not have occurred if there had been a 3 point belt system.

Mazda claimed they were immune from suit because the federal regulations allowed them to choice between either a lap belt or a 3 point belt system in the middle seat. The court did not find merit in this argument. Thus, the case will be sent back to the state court system for trial. Mazda was reliant upon the Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards (FMVSS) and Regulations to which manufacturers of motor vehicle and equipment items must conform and certify compliance. The first FMVSS became effective on March 1, 1967. These regulations mandate guidelines for items such as seat belts, air bags and roofs in the vehicle. However, it is important to note that these are just minimum safety standards for vehicle manufacturers.