WASHINGTON - The U.S. Supreme Court last week ruled that federal regulations establishing vehicle safety standards don't bar lawsuits seeking damages from automakers for installing lap-only seatbelts, Reuters reported. 

The justices unanimously ruled that a California lawsuit against Mazda could proceed. The lawsuit stems from a fatal 2002 collision involving a 1993 Mazda minivan. A passenger wearing a lap-only seatbelt in the rear seat was killed. 

The lawsuit, filed by the passenger's family, claimed that the minivan was defectively designed because it didn't include lap-and-shoulder seatbelts for rear-seat passengers. Mazda has argued that it was in compliance with federal safety regulations in effect at the time. 

Vehicle safety regulations requiring lap-and-shoulder seatbelts for most passenger vehicles took effect in 2007.

The Supreme Court ruling overturns a California appellate court ruling that concluded the product liability lawsuit couldn't proceed.