Garrett v. Ford Motor Co.

684 F. Supp. 407 (D. Md. 1987)

 

RULE:

Because the safety standards under the National Traffic and Motor Vehicle Safety Act of 1966 (Act), 15 U.S.C.S. §§ 1381-143, were only intended to be bare minimum federal standards, Congress had no intention to preempt common law liability when a manufacturer does not exercise the proper standard of care. Thus, common-law courts of the states may hold that the safety performance requirements of a federal standard are so minimal that, under the particular circumstances of the case, the manufacturer's failure to exceed it imposes liability. 

FACTS:

On August 29, 1985, James S. Garrett and Christopher B. Gaboury were rear seat passengers in a 1985 Ford Escort. The car, driven by Christina Kisamore, collided head on with a tractor trailer truck. At the time of the collision, both Garrett and Gaboury were wearing the lap seat belts which came as standard equipment in the rear seat of the Escort. Garrett and Gaboury each suffered severe abdominal injuries allegedly caused by the lap belts they were using at the time of the accident. Gaboury died approximately five hours after the accident and Garrett is paralyzed from the waist down. Plaintiffs have brought this diversity action against defendant Ford for personal injury and wrongful death based upon negligence, breach of warranty and strict liability in tort. Defendant contended that it had complied with the safety standards articulated in the National Traffic and Motor Vehicle Safety Act of 1966 (Act), 15 U.S.C.S. §§ 1381-143, and argued that its compliance with federal law preempted plaintiffs' common-law claims. The court denied defendant's motion for a judgment on the pleadings and summary judgment, finding that plaintiffs raised a triable issue of material fact and that defendant's federal preemption arguments were unpersuasive. 

ISSUE:

Is there a triable issue of material fact remaining in this case?

ANSWER:

Yes.

CONCLUSION:

Because the safety standards were only intended to be bare minimum federal standards, Congress had no intention to preempt common law liability when a manufacturer does not exercise the proper standard of care. To this end it enacted the savings clause, which allows for a tort claim even if the minimal standards are met. The minimum standards were drafted to apply to all automobiles, so the requirements are necessarily general. Therefore, nothing in the statute should be construed to preempt a jury from returning a verdict that a manufacturer was negligent in regard to a particular element of a particular car. "Thus, common-law courts of the states, may hold that the safety performance requirements of a Federal standard are so 'minimum' that, under the particular circumstances of the case, the manufacturer's failure to exceed it imposes liability".

Thus, this Court holds that the most reasonable way to reconcile the language of the National Motor Vehicle Traffic Safety Act does not preempt plaintiffs' common law claims. Therefore, there still remains a triable issue of material fact.

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