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Not wearing a seat belt may cost you more than a ticket

By Southeast Texas Record | Feb 24, 2015

If an injured football player did not have his helmet secured properly, can he still sue the sports equipment manufacturer – and diverse others – for damages? What about the skydiver and the bungee jumper and every other daredevil with a harness who ever gets hurt? Are they not responsible for securing themselves properly (assuming they're not novices)? Are claims they make against other parties for injuries sustained not offset by their own negligence?

What about a person who drives without a seat belt? Does the driver not share responsibility for injuries received in an accident that might not have occurred while belted?

Whether you believe in seat belt laws or not, the fact remains that Texas has one.

The upshot of this is that wearing a seat belt can be construed as part of the proper operation of a motor vehicle, and not wearing one a kind of negligence.

For the past 40 years, however, evidence of a driver’s or passenger’s failure to fasten the seat belt has been considered inadmissible in Texas court. According to a 1974 state supreme court ruling, an unbuckled plaintiff suing for injuries sustained in an accident enjoyed “safe harbor from the harshness of an all-or-nothing scheme that barred recovery for even the slightest contributory negligence.”

But surely a defendant ought not to be held responsible for injuries that might have been less severe, or not sustained at all, if the plaintiff had worn a seat belt.

From this point forward, the defendant won't be. Just this month, the Texas Supreme Court overturned the 1974 ruling, and from now a plaintiff not wearing a seat belt at the time of an accident may find any award reduced by an assessment of the plaintiff’s contributory negligence.

Maybe, if we let people suffer the economic consequences of their actions, they can learn to make intelligent decisions for themselves, and our state and federal nannies can suspend their patronizing “Click It or Ticket” campaigns.

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