The Supreme Court of Arkansas recently released an opinion that overturned an Arkansas law that had made evidence of seat belt non-use inadmissible to prove a plaintiff’s comparative negligence in a personal injury claim. The statute had been designed to prevent defendants from avoiding responsibility for injuries resulting from their negligence because a plaintiff was not wearing a seat belt. Since seat belt use has become mandatory in 49 states and is widely accepted as an important safety precaution, laws in several states that have prevented non-use evidence at trial are being weakened or eliminated.
The Arkansas Case and the State Supreme Court’s Ruling
The case of Mendoza v. Washington Inventory Services was filed by a woman who was a back seat passenger and was injured in a rear-end accident while riding in a vehicle that was being driven by an employee of the defendant. Alleging that the driver of the vehicle negligently caused the accident, the plaintiff filed a personal injury lawsuit against the driver’s employer, seeking compensation for her injuries. As the case progressed, the defendant sought to introduce evidence that the plaintiff’s own negligence contributed to her injuries because she was not wearing a seat belt at the time of the crash. The district court rejected the defendant’s request, citing the Arkansas law that specifically prohibited the admission of such evidence for that purpose.
The defendant appealed the district court’s ruling to the Arkansas Supreme Court, arguing that the law that prevented the admission of the evidence was a legislative overreach on the discretion of the judicial branch and therefore violated the separation of powers doctrine. The state high court agreed with the defendant, reversed the decision, and voided the statute. Presumably, district courts in Arkansas may still exclude seat belt non-use evidence if they find it irrelevant, unreliable, unduly prejudicial, or otherwise inadmissible under the state rules of evidence, but the decision is a judicial one that cannot be controlled by statute. Based on this ruling, the defendant in Mendoza will be permitted to argue that the plaintiff’s comparative negligence contributed to her injuries and reduce or eliminate his liability if this argument is successful.
The Admissibility of Seat Belt Non-use Evidence in Florida
The decision in Mendoza only controls Arkansas law and does not affect the laws governing seat belt non-use evidence offered in a South Florida accident lawsuit. Florida does not have a statute that restricts the admission of seat belt non-use evidence to prove the comparative negligence of a plaintiff in a Miami personal injury lawsuit, but such evidence is statutorily inadmissible to mitigate damages and does not automatically constitute negligence by a plaintiff, as noted in the state’s motor vehicle code, Florida Statute 23.316.614(10).
Although defendants may be able to use evidence that an accident victim was not wearing a seat belt against a plaintiff, this does not mean that South Florida accident victims who weren’t wearing a seat belt are unable to seek compensation. A defendant has the burden to prove that the plaintiff was not wearing a seat belt and that injuries would not have been suffered if a seat belt had been used. A skilled Miami accident attorney can often prevent seat belt non-use evidence from being admitted, or successfully argue that the evidence does not undermine the plaintiff’s claim for compensation when it is admitted.
Are You a Victim of Negligence?
If you or someone you love has been seriously injured or killed in a South Florida car accident, the skilled Miami accident attorneys at Friedman, Rodman & Frank can help you with your claim. Our dedicated and experienced South Florida personal injury attorneys will fight from the start to ensure that the court hears your side of the story, and we will seek out a fair settlement or damages award to compensate you for your injuries and loss. Even if you weren’t wearing a seat belt when you were injured, you still may be entitled to compensation. At Friedman, Rodman & Frank, we try cases in Miami and throughout South Florida, and we represent clients in most personal injury and wrongful death cases, including rear-end accidents. If you or a loved one have been injured, contact us toll-free at 877-448-8585 or via our online contact form. Se habla Español / Nou Parlé Creole.
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State Supreme Court Reverses $4.5 Million Award in Auto Accident Case, April 14, 2016, South Florida Personal Injury Lawyers Blog
Judgment in Favor of County Fair Association Affirmed after Plaintiff Injured During Free Fireworks Display, April 21, 2016, South Florida Personal Injury Lawyers Blog