Over a year and a half since the fatal car crash occurred, the legal saga surrounding Bob Simon’s accident-related death continues to unfold.
Lawyers for Francoise Simon, the widow of the venerable “60 Minutes” correspondent, now say that the limousine company that owned the vehicle involved in the accident intentionally destroyed critical evidence, or at least did not take sufficient precautions to preserve it. Specifically, the attorneys charge that after a “unilateral, secret inspection,” the backseat of the limo mysteriously turned up missing. Attorneys for Skyline Credit Ride, the defendant limo company, flatly deny the allegation. They suggest that the towing company which transported the wrecked vehicle to a Queens NY storage facility may have removed the backseat.
The limo company maintains that the CBS News correspondent was not wearing his seat belt when the fatal crash occurred, so the company should not be held responsible for his injuries. Meanwhile, the wife of Simon claims the company is liable, in part because the limo driver’s driving record included two speeding tickets and nine driver’s license suspensions.
The Seat Belt Defense
Although 49 states have a mandatory seat belt law (New Hampshire is the only jurisdiction without such a rule), very few states allow defendants in negligence cases to introduce evidence of seat belt non-use as a way to limit the victim’s damages. In fact, over a dozen states have laws on the books that expressly prohibit the so-called “seat belt defense.”
New York is one of the rare exceptions. In fact, Empire State courts recognized a seat belt defense as far back as Spier v. Barker in 1974, which was only a few years after the government ordered automakers to install seat belts in cars. However, the seat belt defense is a matter of case law in New York, which means that it may not apply in all cases.
Some arguments against the seat belt defense include:
- Design: The test dummies used in crash tests are probably not reflective of the victim’s age and physique, so the fictional injuries that a dummy sustains in a controlled crash are not the same ones that a real victim sustains in an uncontrolled crash.
- Use: Many seat belts, especially in older vehicles, allow the users to put slack in the belts to make them more comfortable, which is essentially the same thing as not wearing them.
- Evidence: The defendant has the burden of proof on this issue, and the “evidence” that is cited in support of the seat belt defense is not always reliable.
New York is a pure comparative fault state, so juries apportion damages strictly according to the proportion of fault.
Seat belt non-use is sometimes a critical factor in car crash cases. For a free consultation with attorneys who make negligent drivers pay maximum damages, contact Proner & Proner. Our main office is conveniently located across from Grand Central Terminal in Manhattan.