In a dramatic shift from prior decisions, the Supreme Court of Arkansas recently released its opinion regarding the admissibility of seat-belt use evidence in civil lawsuits. The court found that the code that restricts the admissibility of a person’s failure to wear a seat belt violates the Arkansas Constitution.
The case arose from a 2011 car accident. Evidently, the petitioner/plaintiff was a passenger of a car driven by the defendant, who fell asleep at the wheel and caused an accident. The passenger brought a suit against the defendant, alleging damages for the injuries she suffered. The passenger also claimed that the driver was acting within the scope and course of his employment when the accident occurred, and she added the employer as a defendant as well. Both defendants filed answers that included the fact that the passenger was not wearing a seat belt as an affirmative defense. The plaintiff argued that the evidence should not be included because it violated a state statute that prevented such evidence. In turn, the defendants challenged the constitutionality of the state statute that restricts the admissibility of seat belt use or non-use in civil actions. Ultimately, the statute was held unconstitutional.
Applicability of the “Seat Belt” Defense in Florida
In the above case, the defendants attempted to use the seat belt defense in order to lessen the amount of damages for which they were liable. This defense has often been incorporated into various comparative fault systems. A number of states do not address the seat belt defense. However, Florida is one of the 15 states that allow a seat belt non-use defense.