Includes highway safety publications and journals on road maintenance, engineering and injury litigation, as well as traffic safety facts, accident and collision investigation information and consulting, court and liability issues, and links to transportation related organizations such as departments of transportation and safety organizations.  Also includes discussion of road construction issues, legal cases on traffic accidents and collisions, and other information on highway safety.  See our highway safety expert services and publications.
Road Injury Prevention & Litigation Journal
Copyright © 1997 by TranSafety, Inc.
September 2, 1997
TranSafety, Inc.
(360) 683-6276
Fax: (360) 335-6402
transafety@live.com
















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

Highway Safety Publications Catalog. Articles on Road Engineering, Road Maintenance & Management, and Injury Litigation. Information and consulting for the Automobile and Road User, as well as for law professionals in accident investigations.
TranSafety's free consumer journal for automobile and road users, three subscription journals on road maintenance, engineering, and injury litigation, and highway safety publications catalog. See our free consumer journal for automobile and road users, three subscription journals on road maintenance, engineering, and injury litigation, and a highway safety publications catalog.


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:

specifies that any surface that is contactable by a dummy head when the seat is subjected to a particular frontal impact test is to be covered with a slow recovery, energy absorbing material. 49 CFR 571.213, S.5.2.3

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:

Whenever a Federal motor vehicle safety standard established under this sub- chapter is in effect, no State or political subdivision of a State shall have any authority either to establish, or to continue in effect, with respect to any motor vehicle or item of motor vehicle equipment any safety standard applicable to the same aspect of performance of such vehicle or item or equipment which is not identical to the Federal standard.

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:

Compliance with any Federal motor vehicle safety standard issued under this title does not exempt any person from any liability under common law. 15 USC 1397(k).

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:

Federal minimum safety standards need not be interpreted as restricting State common law standards of care. Compliance with such standards would thus not necessarily shield any person from product liability at common law. S.Rep. No. 1301, 89th Cong., 2d Sess 12 (1966). (274 Or. at 88-89 n. 5, 545 P.2d 117.

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.


Back to the Road Injury Prevention & Litigation Journal Index