Safer Alternative Designs For Windows And Occupant Restraint Systems Are Not Preempted – Tenth Court Of Appeals

In a recent ruling the Tenth Court of Appeals rejected claims from a bus manufacturer that claims of design defects stemming from lack of laminated glass and seatbelts on passengers buses are preempted by the federal law. Passengers involved in a bus accident had sued the manufacturer of the bus alleging the bus was defectively designed and unreasonably dangerous because it was not equipped with three-point passenger seatbelts or with laminated glass passenger windows.

The defendant bus manufacturer, MCI, contended the Plaintiffs’ seatbelt claims are impliedly preempted by Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard 208, the federal regulation applicable to safety systems for buses, and by the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration’s rejections of a standard that would require passenger seatbelts on buses.

The Court rejected the argument on the grounds that allows state common law to impose higher standards, assuming they do not actually conflict with federal law or “stand as an obstacle to the accomplishment and execution” of federal purposes and objectives.

MCI further argued that the Plaintiffs’ state common-law defective design claims regarding laminated passenger windows are impliedly preempted by federal law. The argument was based on the federal law requirement that glazing materials for use in motor vehicles must conform to ANSI/SAE Z26.1-1996 and Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard 205. At the time the bus at issue was manufactured, ANSI/SAE Z26.1-1996 provided a bus manufacturer could use either laminated or tempered glass in the passenger windows. The Court also rejected the preemption argument on the grounds that Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard 205 does not establish a federal policy which would be frustrated by a state common law rule requiring advanced glazing in side windows.