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The Seat Belt Defense in Florida Accident Cases – Jones v. Alayon

seat belt2Individuals who do not wear seat belts are much more likely to be injured in a motor vehicle accident than persons who do wear seat belts. This is precisely why so many states, including Florida, have mandatory seat belt laws. In Florida, defendants can use the seat belt defense to lessen liability.

In Jones v. Alayon, a Florida driver was rear-ended by the defendant, an off duty police officer. Upon impact, the driver’s car struck a guard rail and rolled over. The driver was ejected from the car and was subsequently run over by other vehicles on the road. The driver died as a result of the accident.

The defendant left the scene and reported his vehicle stolen before admitting that he caused the fatal wreck. The defendant was jailed for the occurrence.

The deceased driver’s daughter brought a wrongful death claim against the defendant. Before the trial began, the defendant was successful in asking the court to omit any evidence regarding his job and the fact that he fled the scene of the accident. The defendant denied that he caused the driver’s death, claiming that the driver’s failure to wear his seat belt was a form of comparative negligence. In other words, the defendant claimed that the driver caused his own death by not wearing a seat belt. Ultimately, the jury determined that the defendant was 30 percent at fault and the decedent was 70 percent at fault. Thus, the decedent’s damages were reduced by 70 percent.

The decedent’s daughter claimed that the decedent always wore a seat belt and only did not wear it in this instance because it was broken. She claimed he was going to get it repaired. The plaintiff tried to secure a directed verdict on the seat belt defense. The court denied this motion, explaining that it was the jury’s job to determine whether the decedent was negligent for not yet repairing the seat belt.

The decedent’s daughter appealed, claiming that the trial court abused its discretion by allowing excluding some evidence, by allowing the defendant to offer hearsay to the jury, and by denying her motion for a directed verdict on the seat belt issue.

On appeal, Florida’s Fourth District held that the lower court did not err about which testimony was permissible and which was not. The court reasoned that the trial court used its discretion when ascertaining whether the prejudicial value of the evidence outweighed its probative value. Additionally, the Court of Appeal explained that the lower court did not improperly deny the plaintiff’s motion for a directed verdict.

Dealing with an accident is never easy. In many accident cases, liability is clear cut. However, in some cases ascertaining fault is much more complicated. The legal process that often follows an accident can be daunting and stressful. We understand that this is the last thing anyone wants to think about after a car wreck, but we also know how important it is. At the Law Offices of Robert Dixon, our highly skilled car accident attorneys have helped countless Florida clients resolve their accident claims and can help you too. To find out about your options, contact us online or call us today at 1-877-499-HURT (4878).

More Blog Posts:

The “Relation Back” Doctrine in Florida Injury Cases, South Florida Injury Lawyer Blawg, April 29, 2015

Punitive Damages in Florida, South Florida Injury Lawyer Blawg, April 29, 2015

Seeking Damages for Negligently Designed Roads in Florida, South Florida Injury Lawyer Blawg, April 29, 2015