Seat Belt Laws In Texas
Suppose you are driving through a green light and are struck by a driver speeding through a red light.
You decide to sue the other driver for your injuries. At trial, you must prove the other driver was behaving negligently at the time of the accident.
However, when the accident happened, you were not wearing your seat belt. The other driver wants to introduce evidence you weren’t wearing your seat belt, hoping to prove that you, too, were being negligent.
What was the law on introducing this evidence?
For nearly half a century, Texas courts have barred defendants from introducing evidence the plaintiff was not wearing his or her seat belt at the time of the accident.
Evidence the plaintiff was not wearing his or her seat belt was simply inadmissible at trial.
What is the law now?
In 2015, the Texas Supreme Court unanimously ruled that evidence the plaintiff was not wearing his or her seat belt can be introduced.
This evidence does not automatically come in, however. The Texas Supreme Court ruled the defendant must show the evidence is relevant and its value as evidence must outweigh how prejudicial it is.
Why does this matter?
Texas uses a system called “comparative negligence.”
In a comparative negligence system, the plaintiff introduces evidence of the defendant’s negligence. However, the defendant can also introduce evidence the plaintiff was also being negligent.
When reaching its verdict, the jury will decide how much each side was negligent and assign a percent value.
For example, a jury might find the defendant was 70% negligent and the plaintiff was 30% negligent.
This becomes particularly important when it comes to recovering money damages. If a jury determines the plaintiff is at fault 51% or more, the plaintiff can’t recover.
However, the plaintiff can win damages if he or she is less than 51% at fault. But even if he or she can recover damages, the damage award will be reduced by how much the jury found the plaintiff at fault.
The basic idea behind the system is that, if you are injured and less than 51% at fault, you should be compensated; however, your compensation should also be reduced by how negligent you were, as well.
Prior to this ruling, defendants could not introduce evidence a plaintiff was not wearing his or her seat belt.
That meant a jury rarely heard the plaintiff was not wearing his or her seat belt. This evidence tends to go a long way in proving a plaintiff was also negligent.
With the new ability to introduce this evidence, it is easier for defendants to prove the plaintiff was negligent, thereby making it easier to reduce any award the plaintiff receives.
It is also far easier to prove a plaintiff was more than 51% or more responsible for his or her own injury by failing to wear a seat belt. In these situations, the plaintiff would not be able to win any damages.