Shedding Light on the Preemption Doctrine in Product Liability Actions: Defining the Scope of Buckman and Sprietsma
Delaware Law Review, Vol. 6, No. 1, p. 143, 2003
32 Pages Posted: 19 Oct 2011
Date Written: 2003
In the 1990s and 2000s, the United States Supreme Court issued a string of federal preemption decisions in the context of product liability actions. One of the most puzzling decisions was Geier v. American Honda Motor Co., decided in 2000, in which the Court held that certain federal motor vehicle regulations conflicted with state tort law and, therefore, impliedly preempted the product liability claims in the case. Geier raised questions about the circumstances under which implied preemption is appropriate. In the immediate wake of Geier, the Supreme Court decided Buckman Company v. Plaintiffs’ Legal Committee in 2001 and Sprietsma v. Mercury Marine in 2002, which both address implied preemption and reach very different results. This article examines both Buckman and Sprietsma in the context of the basic principles of preemption set forth in numerous Supreme Court decisions, including the intent of Congress, the presumption against preemption, and the impact of a savings clause in the federal statute. The article seeks to reconcile both decisions in light of Geier. This article also argues that, at least in the context of these cases, the Supreme Court has demonstrated an interest in using implied preemption only where the federal policy underlying the statute or regulation is especially strong and indisputable.
Keywords: preemption, product liability, implied preemption
JEL Classification: K13
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation