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Juries Could Weigh Seat Belt Use In Civil Lawsuits

Seatbelt plug

Hoosier drivers are required by law to wear their seat belts.

But if they don’t, that information cannot be used in a civil trial to mitigate how much money the driver responsible for the accident would have to pay a driver who didn't wear a seat belt and suffered injuries that might have been prevented.

Proposed legislation would allow that evidence to be presented.

But Dan Ladendorf says that change could end up hurting the wrong people.

Ladendorf is a personal injury lawyer and former prosecutor.  He points to a case he prosecuted in which a mother was breastfeeding her baby in the front passenger seat when a car came into their lane and hit them head on.

Ladendorf says both mother and child were killed.

“Under this bill, could you imagine what would happen for the insurance company to save a little bit of money?  ‘Well, they wouldn’t have died if they’d been wearing their seat belt.’  I deal with those claims adjustors every single day," he says. "It’s anything to save a dollar.”

Bill proponents say juries are entitled to know all the facts of a case, not just some, and that juries should be trusted to determine who was at fault in an accident.

“They’re entitled to know whether the radio was on so loud that the plaintiff couldn’t hear a siren or a warning or a horn," Defense Trial Counsel of Indiana representative Mark Palmer says. "They’re entitled to know if the brakes are deficient in some way that could have contributed to the accident.”

But members of the Indiana Trial Lawyers Association, who oppose the legislation, say it would shift blame from the wrongdoer to the victim.

Rep. Jerry Torr, R-Carmel, the bill’s author, withdrew the measure before it came up for a vote in committee Monday.  He says there wasn’t enough support to pass it.

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