A 9-year-old girl died in a fatal car crash in Iberville Parish.
Louisiana State Police state that 27-year-old Tommie Killough, of Livonia, was southbound on Highway 75 when he attempted to pass a vehicle that was stopped and waiting to make a left turn. During the maneuver, the stopped car proceeded into a turn and Mr. Killough struck it; after the collision, his vehicle flipped over multiple times. Asha Cooper, who was not properly restrained, was ejected from the vehicle and died at the scene.
Mr. Killough now faces multiple criminal counts in connection with the incident, including negligent homicide and failing to restrain a child.
Child Safety Seat Use
In Louisiana, evidence of unrestrained occupants is admissible in several venues and for several purposes. Lack of use is obviously admissible in criminal proceedings, and it may be relevant in some civil proceedings as well, such as a defective products lawsuit in which the plaintiff claims the car seat failed to work as advertised.
But according to Section 295(F) of the Revised Statutes, a failure to be properly restrained in a child safety seat cannot be evidence of contributory negligence. The theory is that victims who might otherwise be entitled to compensation should not lose their cases because of some technical failure on their part.
The Seat Belt Defense
Forty-nine states – including Louisiana – require persons in motor vehicles to wear seat belts. Curiously, in twenty-six states – including Louisiana – seat belt non-use is inadmissible for comparative fault purposes.
The issue first came up in the early 1970s, shortly after seat belts became mandatory in passenger vehicles. Many courts viewed seat belts as a way to mitigate, or reduce, damages. Since mitigation is only relevant after the plaintiff has already sustained injuries, seat belt use prior to the crash is not admissible according to this theory. Lack of use is also not properly a comparative fault issue, because the failure to wear a seat belt has nothing to do with the fact that the tortfeasor (negligent driver) caused the crash.
In a case from last year, the Supreme Court of neighboring Texas declared that seat belt use was admissible for comparative fault purposes. The Justices called the prior rule “an anachronism [that] is a vestige of a bygone legal system and an oddity in light of modern societal norms.” If the issue comes up in Louisiana, which it most certainly will sooner or later, the Supreme Court may or may not follow suit.
Under current law, the insurance company cannot use seat belt non-use to reduce the plaintiff’s compensation. For a free consultation with an experienced personal injury lawyer in Lake Charles, contact Hoffoss Devall. An attorney can arrange for victims to receive ongoing medical care, even if they have no money and no insurance.