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Tuesday, February 2, 2010

South Carolina Court of Appeals holds that violating mandatory seatbelt law is not evidence of negligence.

By Manton Grier, Jr.

In Sims v. Gregory, Opinion No. 4649 (Ct. App. Jan. 28, 2010), the Court of Appeals held that violating a mandatory seatbelt statute was not evidence of negligence. In that case, a minor child was injured when the car her father was driving was hit by a third party. The child’s mother sued the father. Although the father was not responsible for the wreck, the mother argued that the father was responsible for some of the damages because he failed to ensure that his daughter was secured by a shoulder harness in addition to a lap belt.

The case was decided strictly on the basis of statutory interpretation. Although Section 56-5-6520 requires a driver to secure with proper seatbelts all passengers under 18, Section 56-5-6540(C) states that a “violation of this article is not negligence per se or contributory negligence, and is not admissible as evidence in a civil action.” The court further held that the duty to apply a seatbelt to a minor is only a statutory, and not common-law, duty. Thus, the clear meaning of Section 56-5-6540(C) precludes private right of actions under the mandatory seatbelt law.

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