The Tennessee General Assembly is considering a bill that would allow into evidence in civil cases, such as car accident injury cases, evidence that an injured driver or passenger was not wearing the seat belt. This is terrible public policy and, if enacted, would only serve to benefit insurance companies to the detriment of injured victims.
Since the early 1960’s, Tennessee law has prevented the introduction into evidence of a car driver or passenger’s failure to wear a seat belt. The purpose of this law is clear: a driver who causes an accident through his own negligence or recklessness should not be able to argue in court that the innocent injured person was equally at fault because he was not wearing his seat belt. A drunk driver who causes a crash, for instance, should not have his liability reduced because the innocent victim did not have his seat belt on.
But, the proposed legislation currently in the 2013 General Assembly, Tennessee-2013-HB0414-Draft.pdf, would delete T.C.A. § 55-9-604 and permit into evidence a person’s failure to wear a seat belt. This bill will hurt not only car accident injury victims, but also businesses across Tennessee as well as state programs such as TennCare. If the damages recoverable in a civil action by someone in a car accident are reduced or eliminated by their failure to wear a seat belt, that doesn’t mean the person is not injured. It simply means that their costs of medical care will have to be borne by someone other than the responsible driver’s insurance policy — most likely their own health insurance or by government provided health insurance, such as TennCare.
The Law Office of David S. Hagy, PLC represents car accident injury victims in courts throughout Tennessee and Georgia. I would encourage anyone in Tennessee who cares about good public policy to oppose this bill.