Freightliner Corp. v. Myrick, 514 U.S. 280, 3 (1995)

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Opinion of the Court

Justice Thomas delivered the opinion of the Court.

By statute, the Secretary of Transportation has the authority to issue appropriate safety standards for motor vehicles and their equipment. Respondents filed lawsuits under state common law alleging negligent design defects in equipment manufactured by petitioners. Petitioners claim that these actions are pre-empted by a federal safety standard, even though the standard was suspended by a federal court. We hold that the absence of a federal standard cannot implicitly extinguish state common law.


This case arises from two separate but essentially identical accidents in Georgia involving tractor-trailers. In both cases, 18-wheel tractor-trailers attempted to brake suddenly and ended up jackknifing into oncoming traffic. Neither vehicle was equipped with an antilock braking system (ABS).1 In the first case, respondent Ben Myrick was the driver of an oncoming vehicle that was hit by a tractor-trailer manufactured by petitioner Freightliner. The accident left him permanently paraplegic and brain damaged. In the second case, the driver of an oncoming car, Grace Lindsey, was killed when her vehicle collided with a tractor-trailer manufactured by petitioner Navistar.

art; for the National Conference of State Legislatures et al. by Richard Ruda and James I. Crowley; and for Public Citizen, Inc., by Alan B. Morrison, Cornish F. Hitchcock, and David C. Vladeck.

1 ABS "helps prevent loss of control situations by automatically controlling the amount of braking pressure applied to a wheel. With these systems, the Electronic Control Unit (ECU) monitors wheel-speeds, and changes in wheel-speeds, based on electric signals transmitted from sensors located at the wheels or within the axle housings. If the wheels start to lock, the ECU signals a modulator control valve to actuate, thereby reducing the amount of braking pressure applied to the wheel that is being monitored." 57 Fed. Reg. 24213 (1992).

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