Georgia Lawmakers Considering Allowing Evidence of Lack of Seat Belt Use to Reduce Recovery
Georgia law may soon change so that insurance companies can introduce evidence regarding a plaintiff's seat belt use to reduce financial recovery in Georgia car accident lawsuits. The Georgia seat belt law requires that all adults over the age of 18, who are sitting in the front seat of a passenger vehicle wear a seatbelt. In addition, minors between the age of 8 and 17, sitting in the front or backseat of a passenger vehicle, are required to wear a seatbelt. In 2010, Georgia expanded the law to include pickup trucks as passenger vehicles. Georgia's seat belt law is a "primary enforcement" law, which allows law enforcement to pull a driver over for suspicion of not wearing a seat belt even without evidence of any other type of traffic violation.
With respect to personal injury and motor vehicle law cases, Official Code of Georgia Annotated ("OCGA") Section 40-8-76.1(d) provides that whether an accident victim was wearing a seatbelt shall not be considered evidence of negligence or causation..." in Georgia courts for the purpose of determining comparative fault. This is true even though Georgia has a mandatory seat belt law. This means that despite efforts by law enforcement to encourage seat belt use by ticketing and fining drivers, judges and juries are not allowed to consider the failure to wear a seat belt as a contributing factor toward injuries and medical costs.
Georgia HB 532 (Sits in the House Hopper as of March 2013) seeks to amend OCGA Section 40-8-76.1 to provide that the failure to use seat safety belts may be admitted into evidence under certain circumstances and to repeal conflicting laws. Section 40-8-76.1(d) would be revised as follows:
"(d)(1) The failure of an occupant of the front seat of a passenger vehicle to wear a seat safety belt in the front seat of a motor passenger vehicle which has a seat safety belt or belts shall not be any basis for cancellation of coverage or increase in insurance rates but shall be considered evidence in mitigation of the party's damages only if the court finds:
(A) The party introducing such evidence has pleaded such failure as a defense prior to the entry of a pretrial order;
(B) The person whose injuries are the subject of a claim was at least 14 years of age at the time of his or her injury; and
(C) The party offering such evidence proves by expert testimony that the injured party's failure to use a seat safety belt contributed to the injuries claimed by the plaintiff.
(2) If the court finds that the evidence supports the findings set forth in paragraph (1) of this subsection, the trier of fact may find that the plaintiff's failure to wear a seat safety belt in violation of this subsection contributed to the plaintiffs claimed injuries and may reduce the amount of the plaintiff's recovery; provided, however, that notwithstanding subsection (g) of Code Section 51-12-33, while the trier of fact may reduce a person's right to recover damages according to the proportion of those damages attributable to
such person's failure to wear a seat safety belt, a person's failure to wear a seat safety belt shall not serve to deprive such person from recovering that portion of his or her damages attributable to the negligence of another."
Around 2009, the Georgia Chamber of Commerce, representing thousands of businesses throughout the state, strongly supported legislation sponsored by Senator Lee Hawkins (SB 23) and Representative Harry Geisinger (HB 200) to permit the admissibility of seat belt use in a legal proceeding. HB 532 goes further than simply allowing for the admissibility of seat belt use evidence but does not relieve a defendant of the ultimate responsibility for a vehicle accident. The amended law would allow a judge or jury to consider whether that evidence contributed to injuries or costs and make a decision that considers all the facts.
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If this proposed legislation becomes law, it could result to a reduction in the damages awarded to car accident victims when it is established that their failure to buckle up increased the severity of their injuries. If you or someone you love has questions about the impact of not wearing a seat belt on your personal injury claim, our Georgia auto accident lawyers invite you to contact us. Our Atlanta car accident lawyers at Montlick and Associates have been helping injury victims and their families for over thirty years throughout all of Georgia and the Southeast, including but not limited to Albany, Athens, Atlanta, Augusta, Columbus, Gainesville, Macon, Marietta, Rome, Roswell, Savannah, Smyrna, Valdosta, Warner Robins and all smaller cities and rural areas in the state. No matter where you are located our attorneys are just a phone call away, and we will even come to you. Call us 24 hours a day/7 days a week for your Free Consultation at 1-800-LAW-NEED (1-800-529-6333). You can also visit us online at www.montlick.com and use our Free Case Evaluation Form or 24-hour Live Online Chat.