Capitol Views: Wearing a seatbelt remains a mystery

    The Senate Judiciary A Committee deferred legislation this morning that would have instituted a major change in the guidelines for lawsuits related to motor-vehicle accidents.

    SB148 by Sen. Sharon Hewitt, R-Slidell, would have revised the current law and allowed courts to consider a defendant’s seatbelt use when awarding damages.

    Under the existing statue, juries are not permitted to know if a party was or was not wearing a seatbelt when hearing a vehicle injury related case. In Hewitt’s view, the guideline is an outdated relic from the initial passage of motor vehicle safety laws over 30 years ago. “That is a holdover from the 1980s, when we first required seatbelts to be used,” she said. “At that time, wearing seatbelts was not a habit by everyone.”

    Hewitt added that she viewed SB148 as a simple, common sense measure. “I firmly believe that the jury should be told if somebody is breaking the law,” she said. “Wearing a seatbelt is state law.”

    The senator added that the bill had broad support from groups such as the Louisiana Association of Business and Industry, the Louisiana Oil and Gas Association and the Baton Rouge Chamber.

    “Most everybody that you talk to about this bill, they are shocked that in Louisiana the failure to wear a seatbelt cannot be shared with the jury,” Hewitt said.

    Hewitt also argued that passage of her bill could have also helped contribute to lowering Louisiana’s high car insurance rates, an issue that has been debated at-length this session. Insurance Commissioner Jim Donelon agreed with her position and appeared at the committee hearing to show his support for the measure. “It is a small piece of the puzzle, but I think it would contribute to reduced awards and ultimately lower car insurance rates,” Hewitt said.

    The bill had been initially scheduled to be heard last week, but the committee lost their quorum and adjourned before the instrument could be heard. While the panel effectively killed the bill Tuesday, Hewitt is determined to continue to push the measure into the future, including finding a way to attach the language on to another bill this session. “We are going to consider all available options,” she said.

    Jeremy Alford will publish Capitol Views each afternoon on Daily Report PM through the end of the legislative session. The report is also available to subscribers at LaPolitics.com.

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