As Tennessee Man Survives Big Truck Accident, We Discuss Personal Injury Shaping of Vehicle Safety — Lake v. Memphis Landsmen, LLC.

Last Thursday, the Knoxville News Sentinel reported on a story about a Tennessee man who survived being crushed between an eighteen wheeler and a concrete median.

The driver of a Toyota Camry was travelling east on I-40 near the Campbell Station Road exit when a tractor trailer suddenly started merging into his lane. The Camry driver tried to alert the big rig by honking, but the rig continued to merge pinning the Camry against a concrete median.

Rescue workers tried to free the driver from the Camry with barely two feet of space between the tractor trailer and the concrete. The man finally emerged from the mangled metal Camry. Amazingly, he did not even have a scratch.

Even though the driver would make a great product endorsement, none of the media reports have indicated what saved the Camry driver. The results of this accident would have been unthinkable years ago. Safety features have been a large part of the evolution and history of the American automobile. Technological advancements, consumer information, governmental regulations, and personal injury lawsuits have all led to safer vehicles.

Personal injury lawsuits have played a large part in the shaping of vehicle safety features. In May we mentioned a Supreme Court of Tennessee (“SCT”) opinion in Lake v. Memphis Landsmen, LLC., holding that a federal law’s lack of a seatbelt mandate for passenger seats on buses did not preempt a state negligence claim against a manufacturer for producing a bus without seatbelts.

In Lake, a passenger had been thrown from a bus after a concrete truck collided with the bus. Expert testimony strongly indicated that the passenger’s injuries would have been avoided had a seatbelt prevented him from being thrown. The SCT ruled that the federal regulation did not preempt the negligence claim per a U.S. Supreme Court decision in Williamson v. Mazda Motor of America, Inc.. However, the SCT also distinguished these cases from another U.S. Supreme Court decision, Geier v. American Honda Motor Co.

Geier v. American Honda Motor Co
In Geier, the U.S. Supreme Court found that a federal regulation lacking an air bag requirement did preempt a state air bag mandate in the form of a negligence claim.

For some background, the doctrine of preemption comes from the Supremacy Clause in the Constitution that states, “[t]his Constitution, and the Laws of the United States … shall be the supreme Law of the Land.” Under the Supremacy Clause a federal law will preempt a state law when the state law conflicts with the federal law, and the state law will be struck down.

Looking at the legislative history in Geier, the Supreme Court found that the regulatory agency did not pursue an air bag restriction because they wanted manufactures to experiment with other possible safety features. Also, the regulatory agency worried that an air bag mandate would inhibited seatbelt mandates. In Geier, a mandate might not prevent safety. The Court held that the federal lack of an air bag requirement did preempt the state negligence claim against a manufacturer for failing to put a driver side air bag in a vehicle.

Lake v. Memphis Landsmen, LLC.
Returning to the SCT opinion in Lake v. Memphis Landsmen, LLC., the state court distinguished Geier by a distinction between an agency determining there is no need to adopt a safety requirement and an agency determining that a requirement should not be adopted.

A federal seatbelt mandate for bus passengers had been drafted in 1972, but the agency withdrew the requirement largely because the agency felt city bus passengers would not use the belts for short rides. The court found nothing forbidding states from imposing such a requirement nor did they find an authoritative policy against bus passenger seatbelts. The court held that the federal law did not preempt the state negligence claim.

Like the federal and state cases, personal injury lawsuits have had a long history in shaping state and federal vehicle safety regulations. There are many safety regulations that have come about because of personal injury cases.

If you or your loved one have been injured in a traffic accident, having an traffic accident attorney that knows the rules and and how they will affect your case can be critical to getting you the compensation that you deserve.

If you have been the victim of vehicle accident, contact Hartsoe Law Firm, P.C. at (865) 524-5657.

Additional Resources:
Geier v. American Honda Motor Co., May. 2000, United States Supreme Court.

Preemption, 2014, Legal Information Institute.

Timetoast Timeline: The History of Vehicle Safety, 2014, timetoast.com.

More Blog Entries:
Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration Creates New Rules to Go After Non-compliant Trucking and Bus Companies, Jan. 22, 2014, Knoxville Injury Lawyer Blog

Tennessee Supreme Court Rules Bus Accident Victim May Pursue Injury Claim Appeal, May 15, 2013, Knoxville Injury Lawyer Blog

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