by James Scheidler, Esq.

Currently, in Indiana motor vehicle accident litigation, a jury is precluded from knowing whether an injured plaintiff was wearing a seat belt.[1]  However, considering Indiana Governor Holcomb recently signing into law House Bill 1090, which goes into effect July 1, 2024, jurors will now be able to consider such evidence when determining damages to award in motor vehicle accident cases.

Key Takeaways for Claims Professionals:

  • Indiana Code § 9-19-10-7 and § 9-19-11-8[2] are the specific Indiana Motor Vehicle Statutes impacted by House Bill 1090.
  • The change becomes effective July 1, 2024.
  • This change provides that evidence of a plaintiff not wearing a seatbelt may be considered as proof of a plaintiff’s “failure to mitigate damages” only. Thus, such evidence will still not be considered admissible for the purpose of determining fault.    
  • This change only applies to plaintiffs who were at least fifteen (15) years of age or older at the time of the accident and who were operating a motor vehicle that was manufactured after September 1, 1986 and equipped with at least one (1) inflatable restrained system. (This subsection applies to causes of action accruing after June 30, 2024.)

While this change in the existing law is a win for Indiana tort reform, there are still some caveats.  For starters, a judge will have discretion on whether to permit the evidence following the defendant meeting its burden of proof to establish (1) the plaintiff was noncompliant with Indiana’s “passenger restraint system statutes” and (2) that compliance would have reduced plaintiff’s injuries. Also, the amended Seat Belt Act sets forth that such evidence “may be admitted as proof of failure to mitigate damages.”  Thus, if the court deems it admissible, a jury is limited to considering the information for purposes of determining a plaintiff’s failure to mitigate damages and, consequently, not to assign fault against the plaintiff.

Caveats aside, the fact a jury can now be informed that a plaintiff was unbuckled should hopefully lead to a reduction in damage awards.  Moreover, how this change might impact other Indiana personal injury jurisprudence will need to be monitored.  For example, in personal injury cases involving a motorcyclist plaintiff who was not wearing helmet, courts typically would not consider a helmet defense to be relevant and admissible.  Indeed, unlike seatbelts, Indiana currently has no law requiring motorcycle operators or riders to wear helmets.  However, the decisions prohibiting helmet evidence are commonly analogized with the longstanding Indiana cases holding that seatbelt evidence is inadmissible.  Thus, whether the “illegality distinction” may be viewed as obsolete in light of this change remains to be seen, but certainly something to consider moving forward.    

If you have any questions regarding Indiana House Bill 1090 and the change in Indiana’s seat belt law that takes effect on July 1, 2024, please feel free to call a member of Reminger's General Liability/Surplus Risks or Trucking and Commercial Transportation Practice Groups.

[1] We note for clarity that a plaintiff’s lack of a seatbelt in current product liability litigation involving a motor vehicle safety restraint system is admissible in Indiana to show a plaintiff would have suffered fewer or less severe injuries had the plaintiff worn the seatbelt in an accident.     

[2] Indiana’s “Seatbelt Act”

Jump to Page

By using this site, you agree to our updated Privacy Policy and our Terms of Use