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O’Hara v. General Motors Corp.

O’Hara v. General Motors Corp.

In O’Hara v. General Motors, the court held — as Public Justice’s amicus brief urged — that Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard 205, a regulation that gives car makers the option of using either advanced glazing or tempered glass in car side windows, is a minimum safety standard that does not preempt state-law defective design claims. The Fifth Circuit was the first appellate court in the nation to address this question. It agreed with Public Justice that, under governing Supreme Court precedent — including Sprietsma v. Mercury Marine, a 9-0 victory argued by Public Justice Senior Attorney Leslie Brueckner — the plaintiffs’ claims are not preempted because there is no conflict between federal law and the O’Haras’ suit against GM.

The O’Haras sued GM after their daughter was severely injured when she was partially ejected from a 2004 Chevrolet Tahoe during a rollover accident. Claiming that GM could have prevented their daughter’s injuries by installing side windows using advanced glazing, the O’Haras argued that the Tahoe’s tempered glass windows were defective under Texas state law. GM moved to dismiss the case, arguing that, because federal safety standards give auto manufacturers the option of installing tempered glass, the O’Haras’ claims were preempted by federal law. The U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Texas agreed, and the plaintiffs appealed to the Fifth Circuit.

  • Leslie Bailey

Case Documents

  • The Court of Appeals' decision rejecting preemption

    The Fifth Circuit reversed, holding that "the text and commentary on FMVSS 205 show that it is best understood as a minimum safety standard." Based on an exhaustive analysis of the standard's text and history, the court concluded that the fact that the regulation gives car makers window-glazing options "does not establish a federal policy which would be frustrated by a state common law rule requiring advanced glazing in side windows." The court thus held that the O'Haras' claims do not conflict with any federal objectives and must be permitted to go forward.

  • Amicus Brief

    Amici brief of the Impact Fund, Public Justice, et al.