I was hurt in a car accident and didn't have my seatbelt on. Now the insurance company says I'm at fault for not wearing a seatbelt. Can they use that as evidence?
The short answer is “Yes! Seatbelt use is allowed as evidence of negligence in an auto accident."
Texas is an “at-fault” state when it comes to auto accidents. If you are found at fault for the accident, you (your insurer) is going to pay for the damage you caused. If you are not at fault, the at-fault party (their insurer) is going to pay for the damage.
Auto accidents are cases of negligence. Texas is a “modified comparative fault” state when it comes to negligence. This means that if you are 51% at fault or more at fault for the accident, your claim can be denied.
If you were 50 percent or less at fault, your claim is OK. Any money award you may get will be reduced by the percentage of your fault.
What does this have to do with seatbelts? Until February 13, 2015 when the Texas Supreme Court ruled on Nabors v. Romero, the non-use of seatbelts could not be used as evidence of negligent acts when figuring out the percentage of fault. Nabors v. Romero flipped that old rule on its head.
Now, in Texas if you’re not wearing your seatbelt and you’re in an accident, your seatbelt use is allowed as evidence. It could prove your negligence and reduce or even do away with any money award you may get.
Another case involving Nabors was heard shortly after the Romero ruling. In Nabors v. Loera, the jury first found that the fact that the Loera family wasn’t wearing seatbelts meant they were each 100% negligent and at fault for their injuries. The court gave them nothing. The family appealed, but ultimately lost due to the ruling in Romero.
Evidence issues are covered by the Texas Rules of Evidence. Relevant evidence and its treatment are covered under Rules 401 and 402. The issue of seatbelts as relevant evidence was part of the question the Supreme Court answered in Romero.
Rule 401 says that relevant evidence is anything that could prove or disprove a fact that is being questioned in court. Example: Is not wearing your seatbelt a sign of fault?
Rule 402 says that all relevant evidence can be admitted, unless some other source of law (the Texas Constitution, statutes, etc.) says it can’t be admitted. Example: Until Romero, the law said “No!” to allowing seatbelt use as evidence.
When it comes to seatbelt use, it is now relevant and allowed evidence in Texas. So, not wearing your seatbelt puts you at risk for:
- Losing any chance of money awards for your injuries.
The best thing you can do is buckle up! If you’ve been in an auto accident, call Justinian and Associates today.