Will Seatbelt Law Bar Recovery in Biloxi, MS Accident?
A late-night car accident that killed a Biloxi, MS woman serves as a grim reminder that it is essential to buckle up every time you get in a vehicle. According to a January 24, 2018 article in the SunHerald, the woman died after her car struck a light truck near a curve, careened off the road, and struck a utility pole. A spokesperson from the Harrison County Sheriff’s Office confirmed that the woman died at the scene. She was not wearing her seatbelt and, though she was not ejected, her injuries were massive. The story raises important questions about liability in a Mississippi wrongful death case when the victim was not wearing a seatbelt in accordance with state law.
Mississippi’s Seatbelt Law
Because there were recent changes to state law that became effective in July 2017, it is helpful to review the requirements of the current statute. In Mississippi, every person traveling in a forward direction on a public roadway must wear a seatbelt. The previous rule required seatbelt use for only front seat passengers and children under 7 years old riding in the back seat.
The law applies to all passenger motor vehicles that carrying 15 or fewer passengers, but motorcycles, farm equipment, and buses are exempt. Children under the age of 4 years are covered by a different statutory section, which requires use of a child passenger restraint device. A violation of the seatbelt law is punishable by a $25 fine (but may include additional court costs and/or state assessments).
The Seatbelt Defense
There is a common assumption that the at-fault driver would not be liable for car accident injuries if the victim was not wearing a seatbelt. The theory is that the victim would not have suffered injuries, or would have sustained less severe injuries, if he or she had buckled up. There is no statute in Mississippi prohibiting a party from raising the seatbelt defense at trial, and courts have not issued a direct ruling on this concept in a car accident or wrongful death case.
Though there is no fully developed law on the seatbelt defense in Mississippi, the concept of comparative negligence may impact recovery where a victim was not properly secured. Mississippi state law provides that damages may be diminished in proportion to the amount of negligence attributable to the victim’s own actions. The at-fault driver could make the argument that failing to buckle up is comparative negligence that should reduce the victim’s compensation.
Note that there is a specific provision regarding comparative negligence in the state’s law on car seats for younger children: The failure to secure a child in a car seat as required by law is not considered comparative negligence, so this information cannot be introduced at trial.
Schedule a Consultation with an Experienced Biloxi, MS Wrongful Death Lawyer
Because Mississippi law is somewhat cloudy on the seatbelt defense, you need a knowledgeable personal injury attorney to represent your interests when a loved one is injured or killed in a car accident. Our legal team at the Law Offices of Judy Guice can help. Please contact our Biloxi, MS to set up a case assessment to review your legal options.