Recently, a 70-year-old woman died in a two-car accident near the Blanco River exit on I-35 SB. The crash involved a semi-truck and a Dodge Journey. Law enforcement stated that they believed the woman was not wearing a seatbelt at the time of the crash, which may have played a role in causing her injuries. Hays County EMS transported her to Ascension Seton Hays Hospital in Kyle for further treatment, but she eventually died of her injuries. While too many lives are lost in road accidents every day, many plaintiffs who sue for their injuries worry that they may face reduced awards because they failed to wear a seatbelt. Texas law on seatbelt use has only become settled within the last few years, and it can be difficult to understand what responsibility it may convey.
Use or Non-Use Is Relevant
Up until 2015, Texas law on seatbelt use evidence was that while the plaintiff’s failure to wear a seatbelt in a car accident might have played a role in causing their injuries, it played no role in causing the accident itself, so it was seen as inadmissible on the grounds of relevance. However, this outlook began to fall out of favor as seatbelt use climbed and the concept of responsibility evolved; while it is true that seatbelt use or lack thereof would not have caused the accident itself, eventually the case of Nabors Well Services Ltd. v Romero (2015) established that it was still relevant evidence for the purposes of determining the extent of the plaintiff’s injuries.
Essentially, Nabors held that while it is true that seatbelt use or non-use could not have caused the crash itself, it could easily have caused some of the plaintiff’s injuries, or made injuries worse. That makes the issue relevant, and a jury should be able to factor it in when trying to apportion liability in a personal injury case. So if you are injured in a vehicle accident and you were not wearing a seatbelt, a jury is permitted to consider that factor in determining who was most responsible for the harm you suffered.
Percentage of Fault
While the law in Texas does allow juries to entertain the issue of seatbelt use, this does not automatically mean that you are barred from recovery if you were not wearing one at the time of your accident. In many accidents, the plaintiff’s injuries are so severe that seatbelt use might not have made a difference. Even if it would have, however, you may still be able to recover because of the way Texas’ law on negligence is structured.
Prior to 1995, Texas was an ‘all-or-nothing’ state in terms of recovery; if a plaintiff was held even 1 percent responsible for their own injuries, they were barred from recovery. In that year, the statute was amended in favor of taking proportional responsibility into account. In short, if a plaintiff is ruled to be less than 50 percent responsible for their own injuries, they may still recover minus their percentage of fault. For example, if the jury holds that you are 20 percent responsible because you were not wearing a seatbelt, you may still be able to recover 80 percent of your damages.
Call a New Braunfels Car Accident Attorney
While the death of this woman appears to simply have been an unforeseen tragedy, seatbelts can make a difference in many accidents, ensuring that those who might otherwise lose their lives make it through. If you have been in an auto accident and there are questions about who was (or was not) wearing a seatbelt, calling the skilled New Braunfels car crash lawyers at the Bettersworth Law Firm is a good idea. We are happy to help you understand your options going forward. Contact us today at 888-392-0039 to set up a free consultation.