The Texas Supreme Court held in Carnation Co. V Wong, 516 S.W.2d 116 (Tex. 1974), that persons whose negligence did not cause the auto accident should not have their failure to wear an available seatbelt admitted against them to reduce their damages. This law was well established over a decade later when the Texas Legislature passed Texas Transportation Code section 545 requiring the use of seatbelts by certain occupants of motor vehicles. At the time of the passage of Section 545 legislators, fearing that insurance companies would use the failure of an injured motorist to wear a required seatbelt as an excuse not to pay legitimate claims, added language to the legislation prohibiting the admission of evidence regarding the non-use of a seatbelt in injury cases.
Fast forward almost 20 years to the 2003 legislative session. In 2003 the insurance lobby dominated (some say owned) the Texas Legislature. The Legislature passed House Bill 4 including a provision repealing the sections 545.412(d) and 545.413(g) which prohibited the admission of evidence of the use or non-use of a seat belt. The insurance lobby hoped to use the failure of an injured plaintiff to wear a seatbelt in a contributory negligence type argument to reduce damages. However, Texas law has gone full circle and returned to the mandates of Carnation Co. v. Wong. While the failure to wear a seatbelt may arguable be admissible for some purposes, such as in certain products liability crashworthiness cases, it is inadmissible under Carnation Co. v. Wong to reduce or show a failure to mitigate the Plaintiff’s damages.
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