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Keep Calm and Assume Nothing – Georgia Court of Appeals Rules That Defense May Not Argue the Plaintiff Had Failed to Wear a Seat Belt

Published December 24, 2017 by Bruce Millar

We occasionally write here about the ways in which victims of injury make assumptions about their own negligence. They imagine that they are at fault for some reason and those, often erroneous, assumptions ultimately close the doors to rightful, legitimate recovery. In other words, if you had an auto accident and were injured, you might very well assume that the injuries were your own fault because you failed to fasten your seatbelt. That is not always the case.

The law is a living thing. Statutes are added regularly to the books and because those statutes are subject to interpretation, every decision, every verdict has the potential to change the way the law is applied. Take the laws that apply to the business of fastening that aforementioned seatbelt.  The statutes say you must wear one. Interestingly, though, not wearing one doesn’t mean you cannot recover for injuries you suffer.

REID v. ODOM, 199 Ga. App. 146 (1991)

The case of REID v. ODOM, 199 Ga. App. 146 (1991), is one in which an automobile accident gave rise to a civil suit. The injured party – who was not wearing a seat belt — sued for damages. During closing arguments at trial, the defense suggested to the jury that if the plaintiff had been wearing a seatbelt at the time of the accident, the damages could have been far less or the Plaintiff might not have been hurt at all.  The Court then instructed the jury that it could not make the defendant to pay for injuries that the plaintiff brought on through his own negligence. The jury, after being so instructed, denied the plaintiff’s request for damages. The plaintiff appealed.

When the Appellate Court reviewed the laws around seatbelt use, it found that the defendant’s lawyer wrongly advised the jury in closing arguments.

Georgia Seatbelt Laws

The seatbelt law in Georgia, Ga. Code Ann. § 40-8-76.1(d), was enacted in September of 1988. This law states clearly that “Failure to wear a seat safety belt in violation of this code section shall not be considered evidence of negligence, shall not be considered by the court on any question of liability of any person, and shall not diminish any recovery for damages.”

A Reversed Verdict

The Appellate Court found the final arguments by the defense were improper. The judge therefore reversed the jury’s verdict and sent the case back for re-trial.

Why Its Important to Hire a Personal Injury Lawyer

All too many personal injury cases are decided at the injured victims’ kitchen table without the benefit of counsel. Such decisions are, sadly, rarely acted upon and are not subject to legal review.

If an accident has made you to suffer physical, emotional, or financial pain, you owe it to yourself to talk your case over with a personal injury specialist. Because the law is ever-evolving, what you consider to be your mistake may not actually keep you from recovering damages.

Call or email the personal injury specialists at The Millar Law Firm today. Allow us to review the facts of your case to see if it should be tried in court. Before you blame yourself for your injuries and throw away your constitutional rights, seek answers from a legal professional.

*Legal Disclaimer About this Article

LEGAL DISCLAIMER: The above article is a factually-accurate case history of an actual previously litigated or settled Georgia case.  The case was reported on in local media and/or legal reporting services and it was not handled by The Millar Law Firm. However, we think our current and prospective clients may find this information interesting and informative as the case is factually similar to cases our office routinely handles. Please be advised that The Millar Law Firm makes no guarantees your case will have a similar outcome, as past results and results of our firm or of other lawyers and law firms are not guarantees of success.

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