Texas Supreme Court Allows Evidence of Seatbelt Use
In a landmark ruling the Texas Supreme Court in Nabors Well Service, Ltd v. Romero, has overturned a long standing bar on the admissibility of evidence of seat belt use in car accident cases. In this case, several of the Plaintiffs were thrown from their vehicle because they were not wearing their seat belts, and suffered severe injuries. Defendants attempted to argue that the Plaintiffs’ own negligence in failing to wear their seatbelts caused their injuries to be much more severe than they would have been if they had been wearing their seatbelts. The trial court refused to admit evidence that the Plaintiffs were not wearing their seatbelts under long standing precedent. Defendants appealed this ruling and the Texas Supreme Court overturned their previous decisions finding that the rule had outlived its usefulness.
Since 1974, evidence of a Plaintiff’s failure to use a seat belt has been inadmissible in cases involving car accidents. Under Texas’ former contributory negligence scheme, Plaintiffs could not recover if their own negligence contributed in any way to their injuries. The Texas Supreme Court, however, adopted a rule that prohibited the admission of seat belt use evidence to protect Plaintiffs from what they considered the harsh result of not being able to recover damages from an accident caused by a negligent driver if they were not wearing their seatbelt. The Court in Carnation v. Wong, reasoned that while not wearing a seatbelt may exacerbate a Plaintiff’s injuries it would not be a cause of the accident. They concluded that only evidence of the negligent actions of the Plaintiff that caused the occurrence would be admissible.