The city of Fort Wayne will not be able to present evidence at trial that an injured passenger in a traffic accident was not wearing a seatbelt. The Indiana Court of Appeals has ruled that a violation of the state’s Seatbelt Act may not be used to prove contributory negligence.
Katie Parrish was an unrestrained front-seat passenger when the vehicle she was riding in was hit by a Fort Wayne Police Department car. She was thrown from the vehicle and sustained physical injuries.
Two years after the accident, Parrish filed a negligence action against the city. In 2014, prior to trial, she filed a motion in limine seeking to exclude any evidence that she had not been wearing a seatbelt at the time of the accident.
The trial court granted Parrish’s motion and the city filed an interlocutory appeal.
Before the Court of Appeals, the city argued evidence that Parrish was not wearing a seatbelt was admissible to prove her contributory negligence to her injuries. In addition the city asserted Parrish was negligent per se because she violated the duty of care established by the Indiana Seatbelt Act.
Section 7(a) of the Seatbelt Act holds that failure to wear a seatbelt cannot be used to prove the negligence of parties that are subject to the Comparative Fault Act. However, the city argued that because it is not subject to the Comparative Fault Act, it may use the Seatbelt Act to prove Parrish had a statutory duty to wear her seatbelt and, thus, was negligent per se under common law.
The Court of Appeals did not agree in City of Fort Wayne v. Katie Parrish, 02A05-1408-CT-359.
“The Seatbelt Act established a clear mandate from the legislature for passengers in passenger motor vehicles to wear seatbelts, but it also stated that its mandate should not be used to demonstrate fault,” Judge Rudolph Pyle wrote for the court. “While this provision does not apply to the City as it is exempt from the Comparative Fault Act, the Seatbelt Act did not expressly establish that its provisions could be used to establish fault outside of the Comparative Fault Act.”
The appellate court found the Legislature did not alter common law because it has not given a clear mandate that violation of the Seatbelt Act may be used to prove fault. Therefore, Parrish’s failure to restrain herself in the vehicle cannot be used to prove her contributory negligence.