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Failure to Wear a Seat Belt Has Unintended Consequences
For decades, common knowledge in the State of Texas has held that your use or disuse of a seat belt cannot be addressed by the defense in an accident injury case. Most Texans have operated under old knowledge. It is true that until very recently the lack of seatbelt use could not be used to demonstrate negligence on the part of the injured person. For more than forty years, this has been the way things are done. It is imperative for Texans to understand the change in this law and what it means in a potential lawsuit.
Back in 1974, when the first ruling came down from the Texas Supreme Court, seatbelts were not required by law. The 1974 ruling spared the plaintiff from evidence of their failure to wear a seat belt from being admissible in a car accident case.
But a recent case argued before the Texas Supreme Court has changed this. In a statement, Texas Supreme Court Justice Jeffrey V. Brown essentially turned the old law on its head. “The rule may have been appropriate in its time, but today it is a vestige of a bygone system and an oddity in light of modern societal norms. Today we overrule it and hold that relevant evidence of the use or nonuse of seat belts is admissible for the purpose of apportioning responsibility in civil lawsuits.” (Nabors Well Services, Ltd. v. Romero, 456 S.W.3d 553 (Tex. 2015) )
In a nutshell, if you are in a car accident, your failure to wear a seatbelt can be considered in terms of your percentage of fault for your injuries. Even if the accident was proven not your fault, your failure to wear a seatbelt and the injuries suffered because of this can be considered when assigning monetary damages.
Seat belts are required by state law and have been for some time, but this was not always the case. While federal law requires the installation of seat belts by automobile manufacturers, it is left to the states individually to enforce seat belt requirement laws. Originally, the Texas Supreme Court ruled in 1974 that evidence of seatbelt use was inadmissible in court. In the more than four decades since then the state seat belt laws have changed entirely. This new law regarding the admission of seat belt use as evidence, merely reflects those changes. Texas now joins 19 other states in allowing evidence of seatbelt use.
Does seat belt use really matter? In terms of your personal safety, it absolutely does. The National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA) reported that buckling up saved an estimated 13,941 lives in 2015. Seat belt use reached an all-time high that same year with approximately 88.5 percent of passengers and drivers buckling up in passenger vehicles.
Over 35,000 people were killed in motor vehicle crashes in 2015. Of that number, 48 percent were not wearing their seat belts. The NHTSA recognizes the value of wearing a seat belt. Can you imagine a medical procedure or a medication that could prevent nearly half of all deaths from a single cause? Now the Texas Supreme Court has decided that the decision of whether or not to click your seat belt can be used to determine potential compensation in an accident injury case.