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Recent Decision Supports Consumers Seeking Accountability for Dangerous Design Flaws

The U.S. Supreme Court issued a decision earlier this year that could have major implications for car accident survivors seeking compensation from manufacturers of dangerously defective vehicles.

Williamson v. Mazda was a products liability lawsuit brought by the family of Thanh Williamson, a vehicle passenger who was killed in a crash of a Mazda van.

Ms. Williamson’s husband, Delbert Williamson, sued Mazda under California state law, alleging that his wife’s injuries were the result of a design flaw in the vehicle’s seatbelt, and that she most likely would have survived had the belt been designed differently. While most vehicles in the U.S. currently use lap-and-shoulder style seatbelts, Ms. Williamson’s seat in the Mazda vehicle was equipped with a lap belt only.

Mazda defended against the claim by asserting what is known as the “preemption doctrine,” which applies when there is a disagreement between state and federal laws. Under the Supremacy Clause of the U.S. Constitution, federal laws “preempt” contradictory state laws – in other words, a state law will have no effect if it conflicts with a federal law.

Because federal regulations at the time the minivan was made allowed vehicle manufacturers to install either type of seatbelt, Mazda argued that Williamson was preempted from bringing a claim against Mazda under California state law. The Supreme Court, however, rejected Mazda’s argument and allowed the case to continue in State Court on its merits.

The Williamson holding marks a big step forward for consumer safety advocates by finally eliminating a frivolous defense which manufacturers were using to try to keep defective automobile claimants from having their day in court. If you or someone you love has been injured in an automobile or motorcycle or bicycle accident, and you feel that a dangerous defect in the vehicle caused the accident or contributed to worse injuries, contact an experienced personal injury attorney to discuss your situation and find out what legal options may be available to you.

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