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For Immediate Release: May 16, 2005
Governor's veto message regarding SEA 218
May 13, 2005

May 13, 2005


The Honorable Robert D. Garton

President Pro Tempore

Indiana State Senate

114th General Assembly           


Indianapolis, Indiana  46204


Dear Senator Garton:


By the authority vested in me as Governor of Indiana, under the provisions of Article 5, Section 14, of the Constitution of the State of Indiana, I do hereby veto Senate Enrolled Act No. 218, enacted during the regular session of the 114th General Assembly and related to the use of safety belts in vehicles.


I understand that the initial impetus behind this bill was a desire to address what some consider to be an unfair and illogical standard in Indiana law related to the use of seatbelts.  Proponents point to the inconsistency between Indiana’s requirement of seatbelt use, on the one hand, and the inadmissibility of evidence of seatbelt nonuse as a means of allocating comparative fault, on the other.  It strikes me that a change in the law to address this incongruity would be consistent not only with our Comparative Fault Act but also with Hoosiers’ fundamental notions of fairness.


Although its origins may have been directed toward this end, SEA 218 in its final form suffers from a number of flaws from both legal and policy perspectives and fails, in my opinion, to achieve the goals it was intended to address.  The Act authorizes, for the first time, the introduction of evidence of seatbelt nonuse, but it contemplates that such evidence be heard at the damages phase, as opposed to the fault phase, of a trial.  Such an approach is inconsistent with the logic expressed in the Indiana Supreme Court’s March 30, 2005 opinion in Kocher v. Getz.  There the Court noted that, in comparative fault cases, conduct by a plaintiff before an accident that constitutes failure to avoid an injury or to mitigate damages is to be considered in determining “fault.”  SEA 218 is inconsistent with this view to the extent that it provides for the admission of evidence only at the “damages” phase of a trial, after fault has already been determined.


SEA 218 does advance one of its proponents’ original goals by providing for a reduction in damages based on a plaintiff’s failure to wear a seatbelt.  However, its utility is undermined by a 4% cap on the amount of that reduction and by the defendant’s need to overcome significant evidentiary hurdles—including the need for expert testimony—to prove both noncompliance and the extent of the reduction of damages.



Another aspect of the bill—the admission of evidence of a defendant’s drunk driving or other violations of law during the damages phase of a trial—gives rise to an additional concern.  SEA 218 runs counter to the long-standing practice of allowing a defendant to concede such violations and admit full liability at the outset, so that the court may proceed directly to a determination of damages, thus reducing court time and costs.


I note that many of those who would be impacted by this legislation have not reached consensus.  I will support future efforts to resolve the discrepancy in Indiana law between the requirement of seatbelt use and the prohibition on the admission of evidence of seatbelt nonuse at trial, with legislation that enjoys broader support and that does not suffer from the flaws described in this letter.






Mitchell E. Daniels, Jr.