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Posted by: Tanja Trezise on May 3, 2013

Court: TN Supreme Court

Attorneys 1:

Gary K. Smith and C. Philip M. Campbell, Memphis, Tennessee, for the appellants, Clifton A. Lake and Charleen J. Lake.

Attorneys 2:

Kenneth R. Rudstrom, Memphis, Tennessee, and James E. Singer, Atlanta, Georgia, for the appellee, The Memphis Landsmen, LLC.

Molly A. Glover, Aaron Robert Parker, Steve N. Snyder, and Eric J. Llewellyn, Memphis, Tennessee, for the appellee, Metrotrans Corporation.

James Branson Summers, Heather Webb Fletcher, and Kirk Caraway, Memphis, Tennessee, for the appellee, Budget Rent A Car Systems, Inc.

Judge(s): WADE

On March 18, 1998, a concrete truck collided with a shuttle bus used to transport passengers between the Memphis International Airport and a nearby rental car facility. A passenger, who suffered a severe brain injury as a result of the collision, and his wife brought suit against the owner of the bus, the manufacturer of the bus, the manufacturer of the bus windows, and the franchisor of the rental car business. They based their claims in negligence and products liability, contending that the bus was unsafe because it was not equipped with passenger seatbelts, because it had side windows made of tempered glass rather than laminated glass, and because it provided perimeter seating instead of forward-facing rows. The trial court granted summary judgment to the window manufacturer and partial summary judgments as to the products liability claims against the bus owner and franchisor, but otherwise denied the defendants’ motions for summary judgment, which asserted that the plaintiffs’ claims were preempted by federal motor vehicle safety standards. Following trial, the jury found that the plaintiffs had sustained damages in the amount of $8,543,630, but assessed 100% of the fault to the corporate owner of the concrete truck, which had reached a settlement with the plaintiffs prior to trial. On appeal, the plaintiffs contended that they were entitled to a new trial, citing twelve grounds for review. As a threshold issue, however, the defendants continued to argue federal preemption of the claims. The Court of Appeals held that Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards 205 and 208, 49 C.F.R. §§ 571.205, .208 (1995), preempted the claims based on the lack of passenger seatbelts and the material used in the window glass, and further ruled that the trial court had erred by failing to grant a directed verdict on the perimeter-seating claim because the evidence was insufficient to establish causation. We granted the plaintiffs permission to appeal and remanded the case to the Court of Appeals for reconsideration in light of the intervening decision by the United States Supreme Court in Williamson v. Mazda Motor of America, Inc., 131 S. Ct. 1131 (2011). On remand, the Court of Appeals reaffirmed its prior judgment, concluding that the ruling in Williamson did not affect its previous analysis. The plaintiffs were again granted permission to appeal. Because the seatbelt and window-glass claims are not preempted by federal law and the evidence sufficiently demonstrates causation in fact as to the perimeterseating claim, the judgment is reversed and the cause is remanded to the Court of Appeals for consideration of the plaintiffs’ claims of error during the course of the trial.