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Deceased died due to a lap belt being installed instead of lap and shoulder belt


Product liability cases are often long and complex. This case was no exception to that rule. A dead woman’s estate brought a wrongful death action, stating that the woman had died in an accident due to the fact that the rear aisle seat of her SUV has only lap belts instead of lap-and-shoulder belts.

The case was dismissed at the state trial court level and on appeal it was affirmed. The court found material that specifically required the installation of passive restraint devices (seatbelts) pre-empted a state tort suit against an auto maker who failed to install airbags.

In this particular case, the Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard stated that auto makers are required to install seat belts on rear seats and the must install lap-and-shoulder belts on seats next to car doors or frames. However, they may put in either lap belts or lap-and-shoulder belts on rear inner seats – meaning in an aisle.

The upshot of this case was that section 208 does “not” pre-empt state tort lawsuits that claim an auto maker should have installed lap-and-shoulder belts, rather than simple lap belts on rear inner seats of vehicles such as the minivan in which the woman was riding. There was a further interesting debate about various exemptions and pre-emptions on the state versus federal level. But suffice it to say that in cases such as this, a good representative will have their work cut out for them checking various legal precedents and safety standards.

Cases like this in the Bronx and Brooklyn always take longer to make their way through the courts for the simple reason that the law in this area is complex and often changes quickly.

Often the time spent on cases such as this has to do with the kind of evidence needed to make a solid case to take to court. A good NYC Product Liability Attorney will leave no stone unturned in a quest for justice for their client and will even ensure there are expert witnesses if they are needed.

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