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Scott Kappes
Scott Kappes
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High Court Rules Mazda Seatbelt Lawsuit Not Preempted

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In recent years hearing preemption cases has become quite a common task for the U.S. Supreme Court, and yesterday the Court handed down yet another preemption ruling.

Preemption deals with question of whether federal law “prempts” state law, therefore barring individuals from filing lawsuits under state law (most commonly in the realm of personal injury lawsuits).

Yesterday the court ruled that federal vehicle safety regulations do not protect car manufacturers from product liability lawsuits for installing lap-only seat belts. Read the WSJ Law Bog’s take here.

The decision clears the path for a California lawsuit involving the death of a rear seat passenger in Mazda minivan. Plaintiffs allege that the lap-only seatbelt used in the back seat is to blame for the death.

The decision overrules two California courts that had ruled the case could not proceed because it was preempted by federal law.

The decision should be seen as a small victory for plaintiffs’ attorneys; however, that is not to say that the Court is moving away from preemption.

In another preemption decision just a day earlier the Court ruled that federal law protects pharmaceutical companies from lawsuits brought by parents who claim their children were harmed by vaccines.

The two vastly different opinions only a day apart show the unpredictability of the Court and how the particulars of each case influence their decisions.