Lawsuit for Failure to Install Anti-Lock Brakes In a Car

In Freightliner Corp. v. Myrick, 514 U.S. 280, 287, 131 L. Ed. 2d 385, 392, 115 S. Ct. 1483, 1487 (1995), the Supreme Court considered whether common law claims based on the failure to install antilock brakes were expressly or impliedly preempted by the Vehicle Safety Act. Myrick, 514 U.S. at 282. The preemption clause in that act provided: "Whenever a Federal motor vehicle safety standard established under this subchapter is in effect, no State or political subdivision of a State shall have any authority either to establish, or to continue in effect, with respect to any motor vehicle or item of motor vehicle equipment any safety standard applicable to the same aspect of performance of such vehicle or item of equipment which is not identical to the federal standard." 15 U.S.C.A. 1392 (d) (1982). The plaintiffs in Myrick sued two different motor vehicle manufacturers, alleging that the absence of an antilock braking system in their tractor trailers constituted a negligent design defect. Myrick, 514 U.S. at 282. The defendant manufacturers responded that failure to install claims were preempted because the relevant agency had indicated its intent to regulate braking systems by promulgating a regulation on that subject. Myrick, 514 U.S. at 286. Although that regulation was subsequently struck down by the Ninth Circuit, the defendants argued it still had preemptive effect, since it demonstrated the agency's intent to forbid state regulation with regard to braking systems. Myrick, 514 U.S. at 286. The Supreme Court rejected the defendants' argument. The Court pointed out that there was no evidence that the Vehicle Safety Act gave the relevant federal agency exclusive authority to issue safety standards. Myrick, 514 U.S. at 286. In fact, the Court explained that the preemption clause in that act clearly implied that states could impose safety standards on auto manufacturers until the federal government came forward with a different standard. Therefore, under the Vehicle Safety Act regulatory scheme, the absence of regulation failed to have preemptive effect since, if there was no federal regulation on point, state law remained intact. Myrick, 514 U.S. at 286. Moreover, the Court pointed out, this was not a situation in which the relevant agency had reached an authoritative decision not to regulate. Myrick, 514 U.S. at 286-87. Rather, the agency determined that a regulation was appropriate and even promulgated one, which was simply not in effect at the time of the lawsuit. Myrick, 514 U.S. at 287.