US Supreme Court Reinstates Seat Belt Lawsuit Against Mazda Over Woman’s Wrongful Death

February 23, 2011, by Michael A. DeMayo

In a unanimous ruling, the US Supreme Court says the family of Thanh Williamson can sue Mazda for her wrongful death. The lower courts had dismissed the seat belt defect. lawsuit blaming the automaker for failing to install lap-and-shoulder belts in the rear seat of the 1993 minivan she was riding. Williamson died in 2002 while wearing only a lap belt. The other passengers in the vehicle who were using lap-and-shoulder belts survived the deadly head-on crash.

Mazda sought to have the case dismissed on the grounds that it had been in compliance with federal safety regulations that give automakers the option of installing lap belts only in certain rear seats. It also referred to Geier v. American Honda Motor Company, a previous Supreme Court case over a similar regulation that let automakers decide whether to install air bags. The lower courts had referred to Geier when dismissing the family’s auto products liability complaint.

In Williamson v. Mazda Motor of America, although the Supreme Court is not disavowing Geier or that the history of regulation is similar to the history of air bags, Justice Breyer’s opinion noted that the regulators were not worried about lap-and-shoulder restraints’ consumer acceptance and they weren’t afraid there might be more safety risks from these belts. They also were certain that the lap-and-shoulder belts would improve safety and their concerns about how much it cost to install the more elaborate seat belt system were no longer as great.

North Carolina Seat Belt Defect Cases:
Seat belt defects can cause serious injuries during a traffic crash. A vehicle occupant thinks he/she is properly secured but in fact is not. When a seat belt defect is a result of a manufacturing or design error, the automaker can be held liable for North Carolina auto products liability or wrongful death.

Examples of common seat belt defects:
• Webbing defects
• Latching issues
• Retractor problems
• Seat belt failure
• Lap belt design
Supreme Court Revives Lap Belt Suit Against Mazda, Consumer Affairs, February 23, 2011

Supreme Court Allows Lawsuit Over Rear Seat Belts, New York Times, February 23, 2011

Related Web Resources:
Geier v. American Honda Motor Company

Williamson v. Mazda Motor of America, Cornell University Law School

More North Carolina Car Accident Lawyer Blog Posts:
Tire Defects Can Cause Deadly North Carolina Traffic Crashes, North Carolina Car Accident Lawyer Blog, January 31, 2011

88-Year-Old Greensboro Resident Files North Carolina Auto Products Liability Lawsuit Against Toyota Over Acceleration Accident, North Carolina Car Accident Lawyer Blog, February 25, 2011

North Carolina Auto Products Liability?: NHTSA Reports 16.4 Million Vehicles Recalled in 2009, Carolina Car Accident Lawyer Blog, January 13, 2010