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Circuit Court Rules That FMVSS 205 Does Not Preempt State Law

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit ruled yesterday that Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard 205 does not preempt a common-law claim made against General Motors Corp. (GM) "for failing to use advanced glazing in the side windows of the Tahoe." The case originally was filed by Chad and Michelle O'Hara, whose daughter was partially ejected from a 2004 Chevrolet Tahoe during a rollover accident, resulting in serious injuries.

The O'Haras originally filed the case in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Texas, alleging "common law theories of strict liability and negligence for the defective design, manufacture and marketing of the Tahoe's side windows." They claimed that the tempered glass in the vehicle's sidelites was dangerous and that they should have been equipped with "advanced glazing."

The U.S. District Court granted summary judgment in favor of GM on the grounds that the suit is preempted by FMVSS 205, which allows either tempered glass or advanced glazing to be utilized in motor vehicles.

However, circuit judge Edith Brown Clement ruled that the marketing and failure-to-warn claims made by the O'Haras(in addition to the safety claim) are not preempted by FMVSS 205 and that common law in the state of Texas makes GM's actions negligent. Likewise, while the vehicle met the requirements of FMVSS 205, the court ruled that FMVSS 205 does not preempt state laws requiring vehicle designs not to be defective.

The court cites Sprietsma v. Mercury Marine (2002) as a precedent. In that case, the Coast Guard's decision not to require propeller guards (based on FMVSS 208) was determined to be preempted by state law (at the decision of the Supreme Court), noting that the decision "did not preempt a common-law suit claiming negligence for failing to install such a safety device."

CLICK HERE for the full text of the court document.

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