Plaintiff claimed that the restraint system of a vehicle was defective and that the manufacturer failed to properly warn consumers that the vehicle's restraint system was unsafe if used without a lap belt.
Plaintiff's daughter was killed when she was ejected from the vehicle; she was wearing an automatic shoulder harness, but no lap belt. The defendant moved for summary judgment on the ground that plaintiff's strict liability, negligence and Consumer Fraud claims were preempted by the Federal National Traffic and Motor Vehicle Safety Act of 1966 and Federal Motion Vehicle Safety Standard ("FMVSS") 208.
The trial court granted the defense's motion for summary judgment on the basis that plaintiff's claims were preempted.
The Fourth District Appellate Court affirmed, finding that plaintiff's claims were impliedly preempted by FMVSS 208. The appellate court analyzed the effect of FMVSS 208 on state law claims for defective seatbelt systems and failure to warn claims.
The court found that the restraint system of the vehicle in question complied with the requirements of FMVSS 208 and that the lap belt was provided as an additional safety feature. The court found that FMVSS 208 gave car manufacturers a choice of restraint system designs, and that the defendant company certified the car was in compliance with the one of the specific options that FMVSS 208 offered.
Because the defendant company provided the lap belt as an additional safety feature and its use was not required for certification by FMVSS 208, the defendant company could not have a duty to warn consumers that the vehicle's restraint system allegedly was unsafe if used without a lap belt. Finding for plaintiff would effectively foreclose the use of the restraint system option employed by Ford and would frustrate the flexibility Congress and the Department of Transportation intended by enacting FMVSS 208.