St. Mary's Law Journal


Brian T. Bagley


This Comment calls upon Texas courts to recognize the seat belt defense as a form of comparative responsibility. It has become standard procedure for Americans riding in motor vehicles to “buckle up.” Seat belt usage has risen since 1994, steadily increasing to seventy-five percent in 2002, with an increase of two percent in the last year alone. Many American jurisdictions, however, still refuse to allow evidence of seat belt use or nonuse to be considered in civil suits. Courts do not allow the failure to wear a safety belt in violation of the mandatory seat belt usage statute to be considered as evidence of contributory negligence. It is hard to understand why the seat belt defense has had such difficulty gaining recognition throughout the country—especially because public policy favors wearing seat belts. Moreover, non-recognition of the seat belt defense is inconsistent with the doctrine of negligence, which is the baseline regime for determining liability in American tort law. For many years, Texas refused to recognize the seat belt defense, both statutorily and through case law. As part of an omnibus tort-reform bill, however, the Texas Legislature deleted the statutory language that previously made evidence of seat belt use or nonuse inadmissible in tort suits. This legislative deletion of key language relating to evidence of seat belt non-use opens the door for judicial recognition of a seat belt defense. This Comment explores the various ways the seat belt defense has been recognized in other states and examines the possible justifications for recognition of such a defense in Texas. Recent legislative changes have taken place in Texas and have created an opportunity for the Texas judiciary to recognize the seat belt defense.


St. Mary's University School of Law