Thank you for sharing!

Your article was successfully shared with the contacts you provided.
Click here for the full text of this decision FACTS:On June 17, 2004, Ronald Lee Wilson II was driving a 1999 Pontiac Grand Am when it was struck near the left rear door by another vehicle. His daughter, 12-year-old Alexa Wilson, was seated in the rear center seat at the time. This position was equipped with a lap-only seat belt, which Alexa was wearing at the time of the accident. As a result of the impact, Alexa sustained serious injuries which led to her death. Lisa Ann Carden, Alexa’s mother, and Ronald filed suit against General Motors Corp. under Texas tort law. The plaintiffs claimed that the 1999 Pontiac Grand Am was defectively and negligently designed because: 1. the rear center position of the vehicle was equipped with a lap-only seat belt (or Type 1 seat belt) as opposed to a lap/shoulder belt (Type 2 seat belt); 2. the rear center seat belt was equipped with a manual adjusting device, rather than a retractor; and 3. the vehicle lacked side impact airbags or other side impact protections. The plaintiffs also brought a defective marketing claim, arguing that the vehicle lacked adequate warnings and instructions associated with the vehicle’s use. The district court found that Carden’s and Wilson’s seat belt claims were pre-empted and granted summary judgment to GM. Subsequently, Carden and Wilson agreed to dismiss their remaining claims. Carden and Wilson timely appeal the district court’s grant of summary judgment to GM. HOLDING:Affirmed. Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard (FMVSS) 208, the court stated, was promulgated by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) under the authority of the National Traffic and Motor Vehicle Safety Act of 1966 (the Safety Act), 49 U.S.C. �30101, et seq. The Safety Act was enacted to “reduce traffic accidents and death and injuries resulting from traffic accidents.” Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards, the court stated, establish the types of passenger restraint systems which car and truck manufacturers must install in their vehicles. It is undisputed, the court stated, that at the time the 1999 Pontiac Grand Am was manufactured, FMVSS 208 required that manufacturers install either a lap-only seat belt or the lap/shoulder belt in a rear center position. Under the U.S. Constitution’s supremacy clause, the court stated, federal law will pre-empt state law when congressional intent to pre-empt may be inferred from the existence of a pervasive federal regulatory scheme, or when state law conflicts with federal law or its purposes. Actual conflict between state and federal law, the court stated, exists where “the federal scheme expressly authorizes an activity which the state scheme disallows.” The court found that the plaintiffs’ state common law tort claim actually conflicted with FMVSS 208 and was thus pre-empted by federal law. The rulemaking and legislative history of FMVSS 208, the court explained, indicated that the decision to allow manufacturers the option of selecting either lap-only or lap/shoulder belts was deliberate and for specific policy reasons, particularly the technological problems associated with requiring the installation of lap/shoulder belts, and the resulting cost. Because Carden’s and Wilson’s claim would foreclose a deliberate option left to manufacturers under Standard 208, namely the option of installing manual lap-only seat belts, the court stated that FMVSS 208 pre-empted the plaintiff’s seat belt claims. Similarly, the court stated that FMVSS 208 gives manufacturers the option of selecting between either a lap-only or a lap/shoulder belt which may be equipped with either a retractor or a manual adjusting device. Accordingly, the court found that FMVSS 208 pre-empted the plaintiff’s retractor claims. Alternatively, the court stated that the plaintiffs contended that even if this court were to find that FMVSS 208 pre-empted their seatbelt claims, the district court’s grant of summary judgment should nevertheless be reversed because the unique design of the 1999 Pontiac Grand Am rendered the vehicle unsafe without a lap/shoulder belt installed in the rear center seat. But the court found no evidence identifying any significant differences between the 1999 Grand Am and other vehicles designed during the same time period to justify this claim. Finally, the court found that because the plaintiff’s defective marketing and failure to warn claims appeared to be tied to their defect claims, FMVSS 208 also pre-empted those claims. OPINION:Stewart, J.; Jones, C.J., and DeMoss and Stewart, JJ.

Want to continue reading?
Become a Free ALM Digital Reader.

Benefits of a Digital Membership:

  • Free access to 1 article* every 30 days
  • Access to the entire ALM network of websites
  • Unlimited access to the ALM suite of newsletters
  • Build custom alerts on any search topic of your choosing
  • Search by a wide range of topics

*May exclude premium content
Already have an account?


ALM Legal Publication Newsletters

Sign Up Today and Never Miss Another Story.

As part of your digital membership, you can sign up for an unlimited number of a wide range of complimentary newsletters. Visit your My Account page to make your selections. Get the timely legal news and critical analysis you cannot afford to miss. Tailored just for you. In your inbox. Every day.

Copyright © 2021 ALM Media Properties, LLC. All Rights Reserved.