The automobile industry wants the Supreme Court to help limit lawsuits that charge carmakers for failing to install the best safety equipment. This case, which involves Mazda Motor Corp., “raises issues of enormous importance to auto manufacturers," according to Charles Territo, a spokesman for the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers.
He asserted that there’s a fear that federal regulations would be "superseded" by a hodgepodge of state laws on personal injury claims. However, there’s a possibility that the Supreme Court will deadlock 4-4 since Elena Kagan, the newest justice, has disqualified herself.
Kagan, the Obama administration's solicitor general, had urged the court to take the case. With a tie vote, a lower court ruling would remain intact, favoring automakers without setting a national precedent.
What the auto industry and its allies are asking the court is to reinforce a 2000 decision that indicated that federal law shields automakers from state law claims on how fast manufacturers installed air bags, now a requirement in vehicles sold in the US.
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, food producers and makers of children's products have weighed in on Mazda's side. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has 59 safety standards covering automotive components, such as windshield wipers, internal trunk releases and seat belts.
These standards set performance guidelines that manufacturers are required to comply with. The suit was filed against Mazda by the family of Thanh Williamson, 32, who died in 2002 in Utah as she had been a passenger on the rear aisle seat in the second row of a 1993 MPV minivan. [via autonews - sub. required]