Monday, 14 June 2010

Trial Lawyers, Automakers Argue over Preemption Provision in Auto Safety Bill

There’s much behind-the-scenes wrangling going on between automakers and trial lawyers over a missing provision in the auto safety bill version that was approved by a Senate committee this week.

Last week, the far-reaching auto safety bill was approved by the Senate Committee, but it was missing one provision that had been included in the earlier version that passed the House last month. The House-approved version included a measure that would allow more American consumers to file auto defect product liability lawsuits against automakers. That measure was removed from the version that finally made it to the Senate, under pressure from automakers.

The Bush administration in all its wisdom decided that auto companies, whose vehicles met federal safety regulations, could not be sued by motorists in state courts in case of accidents caused by defects under the so-called federal preemption doctrine. The former administration was a huge fan of federal preemption, but the Obama administration has publicly made clear its objection to such laws.

House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Henry Waxman, Democrat-California, and Rep. Bruce Braley, drafted a measure that would make it easier for consumers who suffered injuries because of auto defects, to sue automakers in a state court. The measure was expected to be attached to the final version of the massive auto safety bill that includes a wide range of safety measures.

Not surprisingly, the automaker lobby has been up in arms against this measure. They insist that removing federal preemption would drive up costs because of lawsuits brought by American consumers. The powerful Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers says that state courts should not have the power to overrule federal regulations.

No class action attorney - or for that matter, no American - should call the auto safety bill complete, if it denies consumers the right to seek justice in a civil court for injuries caused by auto defects. Increased penalty powers for the NHTSA and the installation of more gadgetry in cars is all great, but these can’t help an injured person or the family of a person killed in an accident caused by a defect, to recover justice.

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