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Friday, October 10, 2008

AAJ upset over pre-emption language in new seatbelt rule

The American Association for Justice is upset over a rule issued this week that it says will diminish consumers’ legal right to hold vehicle manufacturers accountable through the civil justice system.

According to the AAJ, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s final rule on designated seating positions includes specific language that would pre-empt state tort law claims related to seatbelt positions. The language essentially prohibits consumers from legally claiming they were unable to wear a seatbelt because of lack of sufficient number of seatbelts or the seatbelt’s location in the vehicle.

The AAJ says that the “designated seating position” rule had two main objectives: (1) to revise the definition of “designated seating position” to determine the number of seat belts that are required in a particular vehicle; and (2) to eliminate the exclusion of auxiliary seats from the definition so that all seating locations intended to be used while a vehicle is in motion would provide the appropriate levels of crash protection.

But the final rule issued Wednesday specifically includes the pre-emption language, in addition to the preamble, where NHTSA has included pre-emption language in past rules.

Before when the language was only in the preamble, the agency was giving an advisory opinion,” AAJ president Les Weisbrod said in a press release. “Clearly the agency wanted to give the manufacturers a free pass on seatbelt safety.”

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