The Arkansas Supreme Court, in a divided opinion, ruled that a provision of law that prohibits the so-called “seat belt defense” in car accident lawsuits is unconstitutional.
In Mendoza v. WIS Int’l, Inc., justices were tasked with answering whether Arkansas Code Annotated section 27-37-703, which states the failure of a vehicle occupant to wear a properly adjusted and fastened seat belt should not be admissible as evidence in a civil action, violated the separation of powers doctrine of the state constitution. Answer: Yes.
This is bad news for injured car accident plaintiffs in Arkansas. Essentially what it means is if you do not wear a seat belt, you could be found comparatively at-fault, which could reduce or eliminate your rightful claim to damages. Arkansas follows a model of modified comparative fault with a 50 percent bar, which means if a plaintiff is more than half at-fault for his her own injuries (or the extent of his or her own injuries), plaintiff can’t collect any damages at all. In Florida, however, plaintiffs can be up to 99 percent liable for their own injuries and still collect on that remaining 1 percent fault held by defendant (this is known as the pure comparative fault model). Continue reading