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South Carolina High Court Reaffirms Preemption in Defective Auto Glass Case – Priester v. Cromer

By November 28, 2012July 17th, 2019Product Liability

This sad decision raises an increasingly common issue for St. Louis auto products liability attorneys like me: defective auto glass that is not laminated. Laminated auto glass is more durable in a crash, which prevents it from shattering, injuring occupants and permitting them to be thrown from the vehicle. In Priester v. Cromer, the family of a young man killed in an auto accident sued Ford Motor Company, arguing that Ford made an unreasonably dangerous pickup truck because the 1997 F-150’s side and rear windows were not laminated glass. James Lloyd Priester was killed after being thrown from one such window in a rollover crash. The South Carolina Supreme Court ruled against his mother’s lawsuit, saying federal auto safety standards preempted the claim. After a U.S. Supreme Court decision, the court was asked to revisit the case, but it came to the same conclusion.
Priester and Cromer had been drinking at a strip club despite being under 21 years old. As they left the bar, Cromer drove off the road; the car rolled several times and Priester, who was not wearing a seatbelt, died at the scene. His mother’s lawsuit against Ford alleged breach of warranty and strict liability for not using laminated glass in the rear and side windows. Ford argued that Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard 205, which permitted use of tempered glass instead, preempted the claims, and the trial court agreed. The South Carolina Supreme Court later agreed. However, the U.S. Supreme Court later decided a similar case, Williamson v. Mazda, which said that a regulation providing a choice between two seatbelts does not preempt a state lawsuit based on failure to install one of the two kinds. The Supreme Court granted review of the instant case, then vacated and remanded for reconsideration.
The South Carolina Supreme Court ultimately made the same decision after considering Williamson. In that case, the federal regulations permitted but did not require the shoulder belts the plaintiff preferred; they also permitted the lap belts the plaintiff alleged were defectively unsafe. The high court found that the mere fact of a choice is insufficient to create implied preemption; preemption should only apply when there’s evidence that having the choice was part of the agency’s objectives. In this case, the history of the federal regulation showed that regulators felt the laminated glass was less safe for both belted and unbelted vehicle occupants, while tempered glass was only unsafe for unbelted occupants. Thus, it found that the NHTSA intended to offer the choice for safety reasons, allowing preemption even under the standard set by Williamson. Thus, it reaffirmed the dismissal of the case.
As a Missouri motor vehicle accident lawyer, I’m sorry to see this mother’s case rejected again. Unfortunately, in a case like this, the reasoning of a jury or a court might be influenced by disapproval of the bad choices the victims were making right before the crash. While it’s true that underage drinking and driving, and failure to wear a seatbelt, are bad choices that shouldn’t be encouraged, an automotive defect doesn’t distinguish between good and bad drivers. No matter how well you drive, if your seatbelts or window glass are dangerous, an accident can hurt you more badly than it otherwise would have. That’s why, as a southern Illinois car crash attorney, I aggressively pursue auto product liability cases that could potentially benefit thousands of car or truck owners.

If you or someone you love suffered injuries that were made worse by a serious safety flaw in a vehicle or auto part, you should call the products liability attorneys at Carey, Danis & Lowe. For a free consultation, send us an email or call today at 1-877-678-3400.
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