Jenner & Block

"Supreme Court Declines to Preempt Tort Suit in Williamson," Commercial & Business Litigation

In this article, Jenner & Block Partner Sally K. Sears Coder and Associate Michael W. Ross review the Williamson v. Mazda Motor of America, Inc. case regarding whether auto manufacturers can be sued if they choose to install lap-only seatbelts, as contemplated by federal regulation.  In Williamson, the U.S. Supreme Court held that a 1989 federal standard that allows auto manufactures to choose between installing lap-only belts and lap-and-shoulder belts for rear-inner seats does not pre-empt state tort suits.  The authors examine the ruling, particularly in terms of how the Court applied the three-part presumption analysis set forth in an earlier ruling (Geier v. American Honda Motor Co.) -- adopting two parts of that analysis but diverging on the third.  Ultimately, they observe that it is still unclear “how a manufacturer should determine the preemption status of a state tort suit that seeks to impose liability for choosing a safety option provided by federal regulation.”