Senate Bill 55, introduced on February 8, 2017 and referred to the Senate Judiciary Committee. Senate Bill 55 seeks to amend and reenact §17C-15-49 of the West Virginia Code relating to the use, misuse or nonuse of a safety belt as admissible evidence in a civil action for damages.
The proposed legislation would make the use, misuse or nonuse of a safety belt by any driver or passenger admissible in any civil action or proceeding for damages as evidence of negligence, contributory negligence, comparative negligence or failure to mitigate damages. The proposed legislation would also overrule the Supreme Court of Appeals of West Virginia decisions in the following matters: Wright v. Hanley, 182 W.Va. 334, 387 S.E.2d 801 (1989), Miller v. Jeffrey, 213 W. Va. 41, 576 S.E.2d 520 (2002) and Estep v. Mike Ferrell Ford Lincoln-Mercury, Inc., 223 W.Va. 209, 672 S.E.2d 345 (2008). In these matters the Court ultimately held that evidence of one's failure to wear a seat belt is not admissible in a negligence action to assess one's percentage of fault or to show one's failure to mitigate damages.
It is important to note that a similar bill was also introduced at the 2016 Legislative Session, Senate Bill 542. Senate Bill 542 did not make it out of the House Judiciary Committee.