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Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Texas High Court Ruling on Seat Belts Could Affect Plaintiffs in Car Accident Cases

Is evidence that a plaintiff did not wear a seat belt admissible in a lawsuit for damages following an automobile wreck?

For decades under Texas law, evidence of a plaintiff's failure to buckle up with a seat belt was inadmissible in lawsuits involving automobile accidents. Now the Texas Supreme Court has changed the rules.

In 1974, the court first barred seat belt evidence to protect plaintiffs from contributory negligence charges.  At the time, under Texas law, if a plaintiff were guilty even of slight contributory negligence, he or she might be barred from receiving any damages whatsoever, an outcome the court sought to prevent.  In 1985, the Texas legislature enacted a statute to prohibit the use of seat belt evidence in such cases, though it repealed the law in 2003.

Texas law now allows plaintiffs to recover apportioned damages if there was contributory negligence, so there is no longer a concern about an all-or-nothing outcome for plaintiffs.  Moreover, in contrast to 1974, the law now requires wearing a seatbelt.  And so, the high court determined that its old rule on seatbelt evidence is no longer appropriate.

Under the new approach, evidence showing whether or not a plaintiff used a seatbelt can be admitted to apportion responsibility and damages in civil litigation.

The court's decision means that a $2.3 million jury verdict won by a family after one of its members was killed in a collision with a truck will be reversed.

A Dallas judge who presides over many lawsuits involving automobile crashes does not expect the ruling to have an impact on most cases.  Seatbelts are not an issue in the majority of car wreck cases.  The case is, however, expected to have implications for product liability cases in which a victim is ejected from a vehicle.  By allowing seat belt evidence to be used in cases involving allegations that a vehicle malfunctioned or was defective, the ruling could tilt jurors away from a plaintiff who failed to wear a seatbelt and give an edge to automobile manufacturers and insurance companies.

The shifting treatment of seatbelt evidence is just one of the many challenges involved in recovering damages when you have been harmed in an accident.  The tenacious personal injury attorneys at Sawicki Law in Dallas, Texas, have years of experience overcoming obstacles in all types of accident claims, including wrongful death.

If you have been injured or if you have lost a loved one in an automobile accident because of the actions of others, we will fight to get you the compensation you deserve, with no fee until you collect.  For a free consultation, call us today at (888)468-8844 or use our online Consultation Request Form.

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