Oral argument: Nov. 3, 2010
Appealed from: California Court of Appeal, Fourth Appellate District, Division Three (Oct. 22, 2008)
SUPREMACY CLAUSE, PREEMPTION, DEPARTMENT OF TRANSPORTATION, TORT, FEDERAL MOTOR VEHICLE SAFETY STANDARDS
Delbert Williamson sued Mazda Motor of America after his wife died in a car accident while she was riding in their Mazda MPV minivan. Williamson claimed that Mazda was liable under state tort law for installing lap-only seatbelts, as opposed to lap-and-shoulder seatbelts, in the rear aisle seat where his wife sat during the crash. Mazda argues that Williamson’s state law claim is preempted by a federal regulation granting manufacturers the choice between lap-only and lap-and-shoulder seatbelts in rear aisle seats. The California Court of Appeal sided with Mazda and held that federal vehicle safety regulations preempted Williamson’s claim because the regulations conflicted with his state law claim. Williamson, however, contends that the Court should allow his state claim because it does not conflict with federal regulations, but rather furthers federal objectives of vehicle safety. The Supreme Court’s decision in this case will address the extent of preemption of state law claims by on-point federal regulations and in turn affect manufacturer liability under state tort claims.