The savings clause in the Motor Vehicle Safety Act of 1966, former 15 U.S.C.S. § 1381 et seq., (like the express preemption provision) does not bar the ordinary working of conflict preemption principles.
Petitioner driver collided with a tree and was seriously injured. Petitioners, the driver and her parents, sued respondent car manufacturer, claiming that respondent had designed its car negligently and defectively because it lacked a driver's side airbag. The district court dismissed the suit, and the court of appeals affirmed. The court granted certiorari and affirmed the dismissal. The court found that the National Traffic and Motor Vehicle Safety Act of 1966, former 15 U.S.C.S. § 1381 et seq., express preemption provision did not preempt the common-law "no airbag" action because the language permitted a narrow reading that excluded common-law actions. However, the court found that petitioners' suit conflicted with Motor Vehicle Safety Act (FMVSS) 208. FMVSS 208 sought a gradually developing mix of alternative passive restraint devices for safety-related reasons. It was also found that the petitioners’ action was pre-empted.
Does the Motor Vehicle Safety Act pre-empt a state common-law tort action in which a plaintiff claims that the defendant auto manufacturer, who was in compliance with the standard, should nonetheless have equipped a 1987 automobile with airbags.
The 1966 Act, when read in conjunction with FMVSS 208, pre-empted a state common-law tort action claiming that an auto manufacturer, who was in compliance with the standard, ought to have equipped a 1987 automobile with airbags, as--even though 1392(d) did not expressly pre-empt the suit--(1) the 1966 Act's saving clause (15 USCS 1397(k), later recodified at 49 USCS 30103(e)), like 1392(d), did not bar the ordinary working of conflict pre-emption principles by suggesting an intent to save state-law tort actions that were inconsistent with federal regulations; and (2) the common-law action in the case at hand presented an obstacle to, among other matters, (a) the variety and mix of passive restraint devices that the federal regulation sought, (b) the gradual phase-in of passive restraints that the federal regulation deliberately imposed, and (c) quite possibly, the adoption of a law mandating that automobile seat belts be buckled up.