The current law in Georgia says that if you are injured by someone else, the at fault driver and their insurance company cannot blame you for your injuries just because you are not wearing a seatbelt. The idea is 1) that unfairly lets the reckless driver off the hook and 2) juries are not qualified to determine to what extent the lack of a seatbelt had to do with the severity of the injury.
O.C.G.A. § 40-8-76.1 says in relevant part:
“(D) The failure of an occupant of a motor vehicle to wear a seat safety belt in any seat of a motor vehicle which has a seat safety belt or belts shall not be considered evidence of negligence or causation, shall not otherwise be considered by the finder of fact on any question of liability of any person, corporation, or insurer, shall not be any basis for cancellation of coverage or increase in insurance rates, and shall not be evidence used to diminish any recovery for damages arising out of the ownership, maintenance, occupancy, or operation of a motor vehicle. ”
Insurance companies and their backers at the Chamber of Commerce are constantly looking for ways to get out of being held financially responsible and blaming the victim for not wearing a seat belt is one way. The reasons it was outlawed are outlined above but with Georgia’s conservative legislature, there is pressure every year to repeal the law.
This year, there are two bills, House Bill 504 and House Bill 532 working their way through committee. One version requires the defendant and their insurer to prove with expert testimony that the lack of seatbelt contributed to the severity of the collision. The other does not.
It calls to mind a case we have with a driver who was rendered a quadriplegic in a crash where the other driver caused our client’s car to flip and roll. During the roll, our client broke his neck. Even with a seatbelt, given that the car landed upside down, there is no way of knowing what effect if any the seatbelt would have had on him being paralyzed.
I shake my head when I see the encroachment on wisdom coming from all directions. Perhaps we as trial lawyers should seek a compromise. We will give you a version of the bill that allows the introduction of seatbelt evidence on front seat occupants which expert medical testimony that allows the jury to parse out causation. In exchange, pass a bill that requires cell phone downloads after all collisions by the officers that just looks to see if the driver was texting in the last 5 minutes before the crash. Make that evidence easily admissible and we will save lives and have less “aw shucks I just didn’t stop in time and am a really nice Mom otherwise” cases. As far as Constitutionality, just make it an implied consent issue. You don’t get to read the texts but by holding a license and driving in the State of Georgia, you have consented to a text check.
The story is as old as time people, rich folks (ie owners of the insurance industry) are always looking for ways to take advantage of those without a political voice. One day we will turn around as a people and realize that they have stacked the deck so far in their favor that we have no chance. Be on your toes people. And to those of you that are middle class conservatives. Are you sure that you won’t be on the s@#$ end of that stick eventually? Here is the Fulton Daily’s full article on the topic.