Road Injury Prevention & Litigation Journal
Copyright © 1997 by TranSafety, Inc.
September 2, 1997|
Fax: (360) 335-6402
Status of Injury and Crashworthiness Consumer Information
How Effective in Preventing Death and Injury Are Safety Belts and Air Bags?
Nissan Liable When Defective Restraint System Contributed to Severity of Plaintiff's Injuries
Compliance with Federal Standards Did Not Relieve Child Restraint Manufacturer from Liability under Common Law
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Compliance with Federal Standards Did Not Relieve Child Restraint Manufacturer from Liability Under Common Law
Kayla Wohl suffered severe injuries when her head struck the hard plastic side of an Evenflo child restraint seat during a vehicle crash. The infant's mother, Susan Ann Wohl, brought a product liability suit against the manufacturer of the seat, claiming the child restraint seat was "negligently designed and unsafe for its intended purpose because sides were inadequately padded." Alleging that the claim was preempted by the National Highway Traffic Safety Act (Safety Act), the manufacturer moved for summary judgment. The Circuit Court of Multnomah County agreed. When the infant's father appealed, the Court of Appeals of Oregon reversed the trial court and held that compliance with the Safety Act did not exempt any person from liability under common law. The case was remanded.
TRIAL COURT DECISION
The plaintiff based her claim of negligent design on the manufacturer's failure to pad the plastic sides of the child restraint seat in a way that prevented Kayla's injuries. The defendant responded by referring to the head impact protection requirement of Safety Standard 213 from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). That requirement:
The defendant pointed out that by allowing the plaintiff's claim here, the court would establish a standard that was "not identical" to the federal standard. Statute 15 USC § 1392(d), according to the defendant, had preempted such claims. The statute provides:
The trail court concluded the plaintiff's claims were preempted under Statute 15 and granted the defendant's motion for summary judgment.
APPELLATE COURT DECISION
Kayla's father, Jeffrey Wohl, appealed the summary judgment decision. He cited the Safety Act's "savings clause" to argue that the Act did not exempt Evenflo from liability under state common law for tort claims. That clause reads:
While defendant and plaintiff cited "massive authority from other jurisdictions" to define the effect of the savings clause, the court agreed with the plaintiff that the decision in McMullen v. Volkswagen of America (274 Or.83, 545 P.2d 117 (1976)) applied to the present case.
At the trial court level, the McMullen court concluded that "the federal government's extensive involvement in promulgating and enforcing automobile crash protection standards suggested a federal preemption of common law liability in the area of crashworthiness design." The Supreme Court of Oregon, however, had reversed and countered, "The federal statutes expressly provide that compliance with the standards fixed by the federal agency does not relieve a person from liability under common law." (274 Or. at 88, 545 P.2d 117). To reach this conclusion, the Supreme Court referenced the legislative history of the Safety Act. Specifically, they quoted:
Finding that McMullen controlled, the Court of Appeals of Oregon denied Evenflo's summary judgment motion and remanded this case.
[For further reference, see Wohl v. Spalding and Evenflo Co.'s, Inc. (Or.App. 1995) in West Publishing Vol. 901 Pacific Reporter, 2nd Series, 929]
Copyright © 1997 by TranSafety, Inc.