This article addresses an important and recurring issue of federalism, and attempts to resolve the tensions that exist between federal and state laws in the context of recent automobile airbag litigation. The authors trace the evolution of the preemption doctrine as it relates to airbag litigation, and write further as to how manufacturers adapt, developing business and ethical strategies of compliance to concurrent state and federal regulation. Two recent important decisions involving no airbag litigation, Tebbetts v. Ford Motor Co. and Wilson v. Pleasant, are interpretive of two provisions of the Safety Act. The former case discussed a preemption clause, and the latter a state common law savings clause. These cases have posed important and controversial legal and ethical issues that have an enormous impact on auto manufacturers' exposure to liability. This article will discuss the issues emanating from the decisions in Tebbetts and Wilson with major emphasis on the doctrine of preemption, the Supremacy Clause of the U.S. Constitution, state police powers, the potential of the judiciary to shape business policy, and the ethical obligations of auto manufacturers to the many stakeholders involved. In addition, the authors proffer suggestions regarding the best road to travel when there are different options for meeting the overlapping layers of federal and state safety requirements.
Stephen D. Lichtenstein and Gerald R. Ferrera,
Airbag Products Liability Litigation: State Common Law Tort Claims Are Not Automatically Preempted by Federal Legislation ,
45 Clev. St. L. Rev.
available at https://engagedscholarship.csuohio.edu/clevstlrev/vol45/iss1/3