The failure of SB 382, an attempted repeal of the seat belt gag law, to pass during the 2018 Regular Legislative Session, will result in greater damages and more exposure to insureds and insurers without a commensurate reduction for the plaintiff’s own fault.
The Seat belt statue
In Louisiana, Revised Statute §32:295.1 requires that, among other things, drivers wear a seat belt when operating motor vehicles. However, Section E of that statute provides:
In any action to recover damages arising out of the ownership, common maintenance, or operation of a motor vehicle, failure to wear a safety belt in violation of this Section shall not be considered evidence of comparative negligence. Failure to wear a safety belt in violation of this Section shall not be admitted to mitigate damages.
The statute has been interpreted to bar evidence of the failure to wear a seat belt as evidence of comparative negligence in causing injury. Bouley v. Guidry, 2004-469 (La. App. 3 Cir. 9/29/04); 883 So.2d 1099, 1103 (citing Rougeau v. Hyundai Motor Am., 01–1182 (La.1/15/02); 805 So.2d 147); see also, e.g., Miller v. Coastal Corp., 635 So.2d 607, 610 (La. Ct. App. 1994); Stout v. Nat’l Cas. Co., 2009 WL 5182209, at *1 (E.D. La. 2009); Polk v. USA, 2018 WL 1581881, at *12 (E.D. La. 2018). The statute therefore prevents a jury from knowing whether someone hurt in auto accident was wearing a seat belt.
SB 382 would have allowed the introduction of seat belt violations in relevant litigation
During the 2018 Regular Legislative Session, however, there was a bill sponsored by Sen. Sharon Hewitt – (R) Slidell – that would have repealed the prohibition and allowed the introduction of seat belt violations in relevant litigation. SB 382 was originally referred to the Committee on Transportation, Highways and Public Works, where it was amended. Thereafter, the bill was recommitted to the Committee on Judiciary A and involuntarily deferred.
greater damages and more exposure to insureds and insurers
Because the bill failed to pass, Louisiana juries will usually remain uninformed regarding a personal injury plaintiff’s use of a seat belt in an automobile accident. The result is unfortunate. Louisiana is a comparative fault state, each party responsible only for its degree of fault. However, La. R.S. §32:295.1 allows a plaintiff to fail to wear a seat belt, one of the easiest and most common sense ways to prevent injury in an automobile accident, and suffer no penalty and have no fault apportioned to him for that failure. Ultimately, lack of seat belt use results in greater damages and more exposure to insureds and insurers without a commensurate reduction for the plaintiff’s own fault.