Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Lap Only Seat Belt Ruling by Supreme Court

Personal injury lawyers in Pittsburgh representing people injured as a result of lap only seat belts will be interested in a recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling. The United State’s highest court has ruled that outdated federal regulations establishing vehicle safety standards do not bar lawsuits seeking damages from automakers for installing lap-only seat belts. Read a complete article on this case here.

The unanimous ruling held that a California lawsuit against Mazda Motor Corp over a fatal 2002 collision involving a 1993 Mazda minivan could proceed. A passenger sitting in a rear seat and wearing a lap-only seat belt was killed. It is alleged that the injuries contributing to the plaintiff’s death were caused, in part, by the lack of an upper seat belt restraint.

Lap only seat belt lawsuits involve claims that car makers have been selling defective vehicles to the public that lack a lap-and-shoulder seat belt for the rear seats. We’ve all been in one of those cars where rear-seat passengers are digging into the back seat trying to find the right lap belt connections. Carmakers argue that they complied with federal safety regulations that were in effect at the time the cars were made. Nonetheless, the Supreme Court has found that these types of product liability lawsuits may go forward.

Yahoo news reported, “Justice Stephen Breyer said in the court's opinion that the federal safety regulation does not preempt state tort lawsuits claiming manufacturers should have installed lap-and-shoulder belts, instead of lap-only belts, on rear inner seats. The ruling adopted the position argued by the Obama administration, which said the California and other courts have interpreted federal law too broadly in barring lawsuits against automakers that put in lap-only seat belts. It said the federal regulations were meant only as minimum standards.”

Vehicle safety regulations have since been changed and most, but not all, vehicles constructed after September 1, 2007, include shoulder-and-lap seat belts in all rear seats that face forward.

Yahoo News reports that it is estimated that more than 1 million vehicles in the United States still have some lap-only belts. This is a powerful decision for people hurt by these lap-only seatbelts. As I have discussed in previous posts here, here and here, the maker of a product like a car seatbelt is liable for the injuries caused to the plaintiff by a defect in the product, which existed when the product left the possession of the manufacturer. This liability is imposed even if the product maker has taken all possible care in the preparation and sale of the product. That is the law in Pennsylvania and most other states have similarly worded laws on products liability cases. Share this post :
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