While some Texas car accidents are caused exclusively by the negligence of one party, many accidents are the result of shared responsibility. In these cases, Texas courts use the state’s proportionate liability statute to determine which accident victims can pursue a claim against the other parties involved in the accident. Specifically, the law allows for anyone involved in a Texas multi-vehicle accident to seek compensation for the injuries they sustained, provided that their percentage of fault is determined to be 50% or less.
Typically, a jury will determine a party’s percentage of fault at the court’s instruction. One question that frequently arises in many Texas car accidents is whether the jury can consider a motorist’s failure to wear a seatbelt as a factor in determining a party’s potential negligence.
Seatbelt Non-Use Evidence
When it comes to seatbelt non-use evidence, courts typically take one of three different approaches. Some courts can allow seatbelt non-use evidence to be considered by the jury when determining a motorist’s percentage of fault. Other courts only allow a plaintiff’s failure to wear a seatbelt during the damages phase of the trial, after liability has been established. And finally, some courts prohibit seatbelt non-use evidence altogether.
The difference in these approaches stems from whether one believes that a motorist’s failure to wear a seatbelt contributes to the cause of the accident, whether seatbelt use is only relevant when determining the extent of a motorist’s injuries, or whether this type of evidence is wholly irrelevant.
In 2014, the Texas Supreme Court issued an opinion in a Texas car accident case holding that seatbelt non-use evidence is relevant in determining whether a plaintiff caused or contributed in any way to their injuries. The court based its opinion on the language of the Texas proportionate liability statute, which focuses on whether a motorist was in any way responsible for the “harms” for which they are seeking recovery, rather than the accident that caused their injuries. Thus, Texas courts take the most permissible approach to seatbelt non-use evidence, allowing it to be considered by the jury when determining a party’s percentage of fault.
In its opinion, the court explained that a driver’s failure to wear a seatbelt is injury-causing conduct, rather than occurrence-causing conduct, acknowledging the distinction made by many other states. However, the court ultimately determined that “a plaintiff who breaks the law or otherwise acts negligently by not using a seat belt is at least partially responsible for the harm that befalls him.”
Have You Been Injured in a Texas Car Accident?
If you or a loved one has recently been injured in a Texas car accident, you may be entitled to monetary compensation. At the San Antonio personal injury law firm of Carabin Shaw, we represent injury victims in all types of Texas car accident cases, including those in which our clients were not wearing a seatbelt at the time of the accident. To learn more about how we can help you pursue a claim for compensation based on the injuries you have sustained, call 800-862-1260 to schedule a free consultation today.
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The Impact of Traffic Tickets in Texas Car Accident Cases, Texas Injury Lawyers Blog, December 11, 2018