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The failure to use a seat belt is one way in which a plaintiff can cause or contribute to cause in any way his own "personal injuries" or "death." Tex. Civ. Prac. & Rem. Code §§ 33.003(a), 33.011(4). The proportionate-responsibility statute, Tex. Civ. Prac. & Rem. Code Ann. § 33.003(a), calls for an apportionment of fault for "personal injuries" and "death" rather than for the underlying occurrence that introduced a sequence of events in which the end result is potentially influenced by whether the plaintiff acted unreasonably or even broke the law.
Aydee Romero, an adult passenger, was killed in an accident involving a Nabors Well Services, Ltd. transport truck and a Chevrolet Suburban with eight occupants. A responding state trooper wrote in his report that all occupants were unrestrained except two passengers. Plaintiffs sued Nabors and its truck driver. At trial, Nabors sought to offer expert testimony from a biochemical engineer that seven of the eight Suburban occupants were unbelted, that five of those seven were ejected from the vehicle, and that the failure to use seat belts caused the passengers’ injuries and the one fatality. Following the Supreme Court’s precedent in Carnation Co. v. Wong, 516 S.W.2d 116 (Tex. 1974), the trial court excluded all evidence of nonuse of seat belts. The court of appeals affirmed the trial court's judgment based solely on the Carnation prohibition on seat-belt evidence. The Court granted review.
Were seatbelt evidence admissible for the purpose of apportioning responsibility in civil lawsuits?
In a personal injury case, relevant evidence of use or nonuse of seat belts, and relevant evidence of a plaintiff’s pre-occurrence, injury-causing conduct generally, was admissible for the purpose of apportioning responsibility under the Texas proportionate-responsibility statute, Tex. Civ. Prac. & Rem. Code Ann. § 33.003(a), provided that the plaintiff's conduct caused or was a cause of his damages. According to the Court, seatbelt evidence was admissible only if it was relevant under Tex. R. Evid. 401, 402. Accordingly, the Court reversed the court of appeals' judgment and remanded the case to the court of appeals for further proceedings consistent with the Court’s opinion.