Juries hearing civil lawsuits related to car accidents would get to hear whether the victim was wearing a seat belt and use the information to reduce damages under a bill passed 36-13 by the Senate on Monday.

House Bill 1090 now heads to the governor for his review and signature.

The language is part of the agency bill for the Indiana Department of Transportation that previously passed the House 86-11.

Sen. Aaron Freeman, R-Indianapolis, criticized the procedure the bill went through. He said the concept was defeated last year and shouldn’t have been added to an agency bill in 2024.

Agency bills generally are items requested by key agencies and are given deference by legislators. By putting controversial language into such a bill it makes it easier to get passed.

“I think this sets a really bad precedent moving forward and I’ll be voting no,” Freeman said.

Standalone bills with similar language have been introduced the last three years and died in the Judiciary committees where they were assigned.

This year, the House bill went through the Roads and Transportation Committee and once in the Senate was initially assigned to Judiciary. But it was quickly reassigned to the Homeland Security and Transportation Committee.

Currently under Indiana law, a jury isn’t allowed to know if a plaintiff in a case was wearing a seat belt or not. The argument has been that doing so takes the focus off who is at fault for causing the accident. Supporters, though, said if injuries were worse because an adult didn’t wear a seat belt, it should be allowed to be considered.

A judge still would have the discretion on that decision. The legislation says the information is only allowed for those who are age 15 or older.

Sen. Mike Crider, R-Greenfield, said he would actually prefer a bill that required the evidence be submitted but that wasn’t what was sent from the House author.

“There’s an easy way that everyone can keep themselves from a position where a jury decides … put your seat belt on every time,” the former police officer said.
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