Consumer Justice Groups File Petition Challenging NHTSA's Seating Position Rule;

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Consumer Justice Groups File Petition Challenging NHTSA's Seating Position Rule;  

For Immediate Release: November 25, 2008

Contact: Jennifer Fuson
202.965.3500, ext. 8369

Consumer Justice Groups File Petition Challenging NHTSA’s Seating Position Rule;

Preemption Clause in Preamble and Rule Text Could Grant Vehicle Manufacturers Blanket Immunity from Lawsuits Related to Seatbelt Use

Washington, DC— In the first step towards filing a legal challenge to National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s (NHTSA) final rule on designated seating positions, the American Association for Justice (AAJ), joined by Consumers for Auto Reliability and Safety, New York State Trial Lawyers Association, Pennsylvania  Association for Justice, Washington State Trial Lawyers Association, the Association of Trial Lawyers of America-New Jersey, and Consumer Attorneys of California filed a Petition for Reconsideration with NHTSA on language included in the final rule that would attempt to diminish consumers’ legal right to hold vehicle manufacturers accountable through the civil justice system.

The groups’ petition challenges language included in the final rule on designated seating positions that defies congressional intent by essentially prohibiting 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 organizations are requesting NHTSA to issue a new final rule that removes the preemption language from both the preamble and the rule text. 

“We hope NHTSA will reconsider their final rule and eliminate the language that attempts to curtail citizens’ basic right to hold vehicle manufacturers accountable through the civil justice system,” said AAJ President Les Weisbrod. “NHTSA’s seatbelt rule attempts to strap consumers of their basic right—the right to civil justice when they have been harmed by a defective product.”

The “designated seating position” rule had two main objectives:  (1) to revise the definition of “designated seating position” to determine the number of seatbelts that are required in a particular vehicle; (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.

"President Bush must not be allowed to do even more damage to the American public, on his way out of office, by trampling on the rights of victims of faulty seatbelt designs," said Rosemary Shahan, President of Consumers for Auto Reliability and Safety.

View a copy of the Petition for Reconsideration filed with NHTSA here.

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