Experts agree that seat belts help save lives. And it is common knowledge that drivers and passengers should always wear their seat belts regardless of the length of the trip. However, what is less known is that the seat belt defense may allow a defendant in a Texas car accident case to use an accident victim’s failure to wear a seat belt against them.
The seat belt defense is really an interpretation of the rules of evidence, specifically, whether evidence of the plaintiff’s failure to wear a seat belt is admissible. For the most part, only relevant evidence is admissible. Most states do not allow defendants to use the seat belt defense, because they consider such evidence irrelevant. Specifically, these jurisdictions determined that whether a person is wearing a seat belt has nothing to do with whether the defendant negligently caused the accident.
Of course, defendants naturally want to introduce seat belt non-use evidence to argue that the plaintiff is responsible for their injuries, and that they should not be on the hook for damages that the plaintiff could have prevented. And, in a 2015 case, for the first time, the Texas Supreme Court held that seat belt non-use evidence was admissible, reversing a long line of decisions.
The court based its decision on two main factors. First, the Texas legislature changed its position on whether seat belt use was mandatory. For many years, seat belt use was not required. However, in 1985, Texas lawmakers passed a law making seat belt use for anyone over 15 years old mandatory. Failure to comply with the law is a criminal offense. The law also made it a crime for drivers to allow children under 15 to ride in their car without a seat belt.
The second factor the court considered was another significant change in the law. Years ago, Texas law prohibited any plaintiff from recovering after an accident if they were even slightly negligent in bringing about their injuries. This doctrine, called contributory negligence, was abandoned by Texas lawmakers in favor of a more nuanced approach called “comparative fault.” In a comparative fault analysis, a plaintiff’s negligence is considered by the jury, but does not automatically preclude their ability to recover. Instead, the plaintiff’s damages award is reduced by their percentage of fault.
Given these two changes in the law, the court determined that it no longer was imperative that seat belt non-use evidence is precluded at trial. Thus, the court held that such evidence could be admitted if the defendant showed that the plaintiff’s conduct in failing to buckle up caused or contributed to their injuries.
Have You Been Injured in a Texas Car Accident?
If you or someone you love recently suffered serious injury after a Texas car accident, contact the San Antonio personal injury law firm of Carabin Shaw. At Carabin Shaw, we represent car wreck victims in all types of claims against negligent drivers and insurance companies. To learn more about how we can help you pursue a claim for compensation, call 800-862-1260 to schedule your free consultation today. Calling is free, and we will not bill you for our services unless we can successfully recover compensation on your behalf.