State Supreme Court Finds Restrictions on Seat Belt Evidence Unconstitutional

The Arkansas Supreme Court recently issued a ruling that struck down a state statute restricting the admissibility of seat-belt non-use evidence in an auto accident lawsuit, finding the rule was unconstitutional under the Arkansas constitution. The Arkansas ruling is demonstrative of recent changes in several states, where courts are moving toward admitting such evidence in civil negligence lawsuits, although the laws continue to vary between states and based on the nature of the proposed evidence.

seatbelt-1314338The plaintiff in the case of Mendoza vs. WIS International was a passenger in a vehicle that was being driven by the defendant when the defendant allegedly fell asleep at the wheel, causing an accident resulting in the plaintiff’s injuries. The plaintiff filed a personal injury lawsuit against the defendant and his employer, seeking damages for the injuries that were suffered in the crash. Once the case was filed, the defendant attempted to admit evidence that the plaintiff had not been wearing her seat belt when the crash occurred, thus contributing to the cause of her injuries and barring her recovery as a matter of law.

Comparative Negligence May Prevent a Plaintiff From Recovering Damages

Many jurisdictions, including Maryland, Virginia, and the District of Columbia, have laws that can prevent an accident victim from recovering damages against a negligent driver if the victim’s negligence contributed to the cause of their injuries. These “contributory negligence” statutes are used to prevent victims from recovering damages in situations in which both the victim and the defendant were negligent and contributed to the cause of the accident or the injuries to the plaintiff. In states that have modified comparative negligence statutes, a plaintiff may not be able to recover any damages if it is found that they are over 50% responsible for their injuries.

Mendoza Ruling Allows Defendants to Argue Non-use of a Seat Belt By Plaintiffs as Comparative Negligence

The Arkansas Supreme Court’s ruling that the defendant may introduce the argument that the plaintiff was not wearing her seat belt as evidence that she was comparatively negligent in causing the injuries is a break from the prior laws in the state. As a result of this ruling, plaintiffs in Arkansas may be unable to collect damages from a negligent defendant if a jury finds that the plaintiff’s negligence in failing to use a seat belt was a greater cause of the injuries than the negligence that caused the accident itself. Other states, including Texas and West Virginia, have recently addressed this issue as well.

Admissibility of Seat Belt Non-use Evidence in Virginia Accident Cases

The Virginia statute that requires passengers and drivers to wear seat belts contains a specific provision, 46.2-1904(D), that forbids evidence that someone was not wearing a seat belt from being admitted in a civil action for damages. Unless Virginia courts find this statute unconstitutional, Virginia auto accident plaintiffs cannot have evidence that they weren’t wearing a seat belt at the time of an accident admitted against them in a Virginia auto accident lawsuit. Virginia accident victims should consult with a qualified Virginia car accident attorney to discuss the best way to handle their case.

Are You an Accident Victim?

If you or a loved one has been injured or killed in a Virginia car accident, the qualified Virginia, District of Columbia, and Maryland personal injury lawyers at Charles B. Roberts and Associates, PC are dedicated to pursuing compensation for accident victims. Our experienced Virginia accident lawyers will ensure that your case is handled properly, and we will work our hardest to prevent the insurance company from avoiding liability for your claim. At Charles B. Roberts and Associates, we handle cases and have offices in the entire D.C. Metro area, including in Arlington, Fredericksburg, Woodbridge, and throughout Northern Virginia, as well as in Southern Maryland. Contact us by calling 703-491-7070 (Virginia) or 888-407-4529 (toll free-Maryland and D.C.), or send us a message using our online form.

See More Blog Posts:

Court Allows Plaintiff to Rely Solely on Circumstantial Evidence in Lead-Based Paint Lawsuit, Virginia Injury Lawyers Blog, April 18, 2016.

West Virginia Court Finds in Favor of Plaintiff in Road Rage Accident Case, Virginia Injury Lawyers Blog, March 25, 2016.