Automobile manufacturers that did not install airbags before they were required to do so by federal law are safe from lawsuits, at least for now.
The Supreme Court ruled on May 22 that Americans who are injured in accidents may not sue automakers for not installing airbags if their car was manufactured prior to the regulations. Legislation passed in September 1989 required carmakers to protect the driver with either an air bag or automatic seat belt. Cars manufactured since September 1997 are required to have air bags for the driver and front-seat passenger.
he court decided by a 5-4 vote that federal regulation of automobile safety blocks lawsuits involving state product-liability laws and the contention that air bags could have prevented physical harm.
As a result of the ruling, a lawsuit filed by a District of Columbia woman against American Honda Motor Co. in 1995 was put to rest. The woman had claimed that her 1987 Honda Accord was defective because it lacked a driver’s side air bag, although federal regulations did not require one when the car was manufactured. The woman suffered serious head injuries when her car went out of control on a curve and struck a tree in 1992.
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