A History of Seat Belt Litigation
It is undeniable that seat belts save lives and personal injury lawyers have historically used the courts to champion their usage and proper installation. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the use of seat belts reduces automobile fatalities and injuries by about 50%. Car manufacturers began installing seat belts in cars during the first half of the 20th century. In the 1960s, the argument for seat belt usage made its way into the courts. Automobile accident defendants began using a seat belt argument to lessen their liability in these cases. According to a report on seat belt litigation, a Wisconsin jury reduced a plaintiff’s recovery amount based on her failure to wear an available seat belt. Though this conclusion sparked an abundance of seat belt-related arguments, courts were reluctant to recognize them as viable defenses. Their primary concerns reportedly included:
Plaintiff should not be punished if the lack of seat belt did not cause the accident;
- At the time, there was little evidence about the effectiveness of seat belts in reducing injuries;
- A belief that most people were not using seat belts at the time;
- Seat belt arguments would require expert testimony, making trials more expensive and lengthy; and
- A belief that the courts should not impose a seat belt duty that had not yet been implemented by state law.
Seat Belt Laws
By the mid-sixties, the federal government was requiring the installation of seat belts in all newly manufactured passenger vehicles. The states were not willingly following their lead though, as there were still very few laws concerning their usage. In the 1980s, the federal government began tying highway safety funding with the establishment of seat belt laws. Not wanting to lose their needed funds, the states complied and seat belt requirements were born. The state of Florida reportedly enacted its first seat belt law in July of 1986. As much impact as these laws had on the everyday lives of citizens, they also impacted the court system. While many states do not allow courts to use seat belt negligence as a bar to recovery, others do allow its usage to reduce recovery amounts.
But the courtroom fight over seat belts was not limited to the parties of an accident. Lawyers dragged car manufacturers into court in response to increased incidents of seat belt failure. As accident investigation became more detailed and sophisticated, it was discovered that faulty seat belts contribute to the seriousness of the accident. In response, lawsuits were initiated to determine the liability of car makers. Some of the most notable cases include:
- A Chrysler installed seat belt, called the Gen-3, was found to unlatch during accidents.
- Toyota has faced numerous allegations about the alleged inability of its seat belts to properly restrain the driver and passengers during a collision.
- General Motors seat belt concerns prompted widespread vehicle recalls and lawsuits.
If you or a family member has been injured due to a faulty seat belt, call Pita Weber & Del Prado in Miami at 305-670-2889 for a free consultation. Put the skills of experienced trial lawyers to work for you.