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Arkansas Supreme Court rules in favor of ATA

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In an opinion handed down April 14, the Arkansas Supreme Court agreed with the Arkansas Trucking Association in a 4-3 vote that struck down an Arkansas statute, prohibiting information about seat belt use in civil lawsuits over vehicle crashes.

Attorney Greg Jones, of Wright, Lindsey, Jennings, challenged the statute's constitutionality on behalf of the Arkansas Trucking Association and the American Trucking Associations.

Jones said, "The Court's decision is a victory for safety and common sense. In bodily injury suits, the issue is not just what caused the impact, but also what cause the injury. Yet until now, Arkansas juries were barred from considering whether the failure to wear a seat belt contributed to any injury." As Jones explained, "This ruling not only will facilitate more informed adjudications, but also will promote safety by creating added incentives for motorists to buckle up."

Prior to the decision, evidence that parties in a vehicle crash were not wearing a seat belt could not be used in civil courts. However, the ruling determined that lawmakers disallowing seat belt evidence is a violation of separation of powers, and therefore unconstitutional.

At issue was the fact that failure to use a seat belt in a vehicle is illegal, and law enforcement can ticket and fine drivers and passengers for breaking this law. However, in civil cases where an individual seeks recovery for damages, a motorist's non-use of a seat belt could not previously be used against him or her.

The Court's ruling stems from a 2011 lawsuit involving a crash that left a passenger severely injured. The defendants' lawyers argued that the woman's failure to wear a seat belt was an act of negligence; however, the previous seat belt statute prohibited such information from being used in the lawsuit. 

"We're working to make our highways safer for everyone, and that starts with buckling your seat belt every time you get behind the wheel. It's well established that the impact of many crashes could be reduced if all parties were buckled up. We're pleased that this evidence can now be considered," said Shannon Newton, president of the Arkansas Trucking Association.

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